In-class Teaching Activity (Novel): Thinking about Characters

Goal:  This short in-class activity allows students to think about peripheral characters and what role they play in the novel, by asking them if any of them could be cut from the novel.  This activity leads students to think about the difference between “flat characters” and “round characters,” but more importantly, the importance of having peripheral characters.  The point of the exercise is not, of course, to come to a consensus about which  character to veto, but to discuss why a particular author spends time developing a minor character. 

Imagine that you are Nella Larsen, who has just received a letter from the editor about the final draft of Quicksand.  Everything is great, except that the editor does not understand the importance of __________ and wants you to cut out that character.  How would you defend this character, as Larsen might have done, to convince the editor that the character is indispensable to the work?

a)     Margaret Creighton

b)    Miss McGooden

c)     Audrey Denney

d)    Mrs. Hayes-Rore

e)     Clementine Richards


Does this character serve an important function?  Does this character represent an important idea?  Does this character influence the way we understand Helga Crane?   Which characters does this editor seem to approve of?   Lead us to the place in the text that will support your group’s argument.

In-class Teaching Activity (Short Story):  Style Swap

Goal:  This in-class activity makes introductory level students to focus on writing style of a given short story author.

Instructions:  Students should come into class having read two coupled short stories by different authors.  After discussing the short stories, split them into groups and ask them to decide which writing style they like better.  Then, ask them what would have to change if they were rewriting the other short story, using that particular author’s style. Discuss with class.  What kind of setting, imagery, voice, temporality, or choice of characters seem more important to one author more than the other?  Use the comparison between writing styles to a discussion of larger difference between the writers (like each writers’ investment/ approach in ideas about “history,” “identity,” “art”).

 (When I tried this, I used Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” and two groups wanted to be Faulkner rewriting Hemingway’s story, and two groups wanted to be Hemingway rewriting Faulkner’s story.  The discussion mainly led to drastic contrast in the authors’ use of temporality in these stories, the way they open a story, the supposed objectiveness or subjectiveness of point-of-view),