THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF STORIES-THE MAJOR IMPACT OF MINOR CHARACTERS by Carolee Dean
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The Secret Language of Stories is a
twelve-step story analysis method I use both to plot my own stories and
to teach writing and story comprehension to my students. A complete
discussion of the twelve steps may be found on the SECRET LANGUAGE OF
STORIES page on my blog.
Some of the most memorable characters
in literature and film are the minor characters. Minor characters serve
many roles. They often provide comic relief, give us a contrast to the
hero, provide a slightly different point of view, demonstrate a rivalry,
share insights into different cultures, and show us the motivations of
antagonists. They might be a friend, sidekick, evil minion of the
villain, or a "threshold guardian" momentarily preventing the hero from
leaving the Old World to enter the New World. They often act as mentors,
sometimes just for a scene or two, passing along vital information or
giving aid to the other characters in the story.
these are the characters who die at the MIDPOINT or DEATH AND
TRANSFORMATION section of the story. We get to know them well enough
that their demise causes us pain if they were friends or relief if they
were evil. We feel the anguish of the hero, who has also come to value
their friendship and support, or his sense of deliverance if they were
trying to do him in. On the other hand, these characters are
not significant enough to the tale that the journey cannot proceed
In contrast, the hero of the story
rarely dies at the MIDPOINT, in fact I can't think of a single
example. It would be difficult to carry the story forward if he did.
Here is fun activity for all ages for the
ghostly month of October. Make headstones for minor characters. If they
have actually died in the story, all the more fitting, though if you are
doing this as a class project you might want to keep it ambiguous so it
won't spoil a story if not everyone has read it.
Write a two line couplet, an epitaph
(a short text honoring a deceased person) or an epigram (a brief,
clever, or memorable statement) that might befit a grave marker. An
aphorism (original and memorable idea) that reflects the character's
beliefs could also be used. The message could be humorous or might be
profound. The headstone may be drawn on paper and include elaborate
artwork or might be sculpted with clay, Play Doh, or Sculpey.
Headstones are interesting because
they use just a few lines to capture the essence of a person's entire
life or belief system. You might want to start by exploring some
examples on the Internet.
Often these final words are poetic.
Some poets even write their own epitaphs before they die. Check out the
one below by W.B. Yeats.
Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools,
libraries, poetry events, and teacher/library conferences. She holds a
bachelor's degree in music therapy and a master's degree in
communicative disorders, and she has spent over a decade working in the
public schools as a
Her first novel, Comfort,was
nominated as a Best Book for Young Adults, was named the Best YA Novel
of 2002 by the Texas Institute of Letters, and was on the TAYSHAS (Texas
Library Association) reading list.
Take Me There is a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. Forget Me Not is a paranormal verse novel.
She conducts teacher trainings on inspiring reluctant writers
including "The Secret Language of Stories" and "Random Act of Haiku."
Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New
Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other.
She's taught English and social studies to upper elementary and
middle-school students in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana.
Back in New
Mexico, Caroline now writes middle-grade novels and picture books full time.
To find teacher's guides, writing activities, and information about author visits, go to my website.
Griffiths Little is the recipient of the Southwest Book Award, The
Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, and the author of the highly
acclaimed, The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets, published by Scholastic Press. Look for her books at the Scholastic Book Fairs, as well as two more forthcoming novels in 2012 and 2013.
lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her
husband, a robotics engineer and their three sons. Kimberley is a
favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting "The Creative
Diary", a highly successful writing workshop and has been a speaker at many conferences.