50 The Human Carnival

British Columbia
Anne Fleming British Columbia

Anne Fleming is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Anomaly as well as Pool-Hopping and Other Stories, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and the Danuta Gleed Award. Three of the stories in her latest collection, Gay Dwarves of America, have won National Magazine Awards, and the title story was shortlisted for the Journey Prize. She divides her time between Vancouver and Kelowna, where she teaches at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Read more

A. L. Kennedy Scotland

A. L. Kennedy is one of Scotland’s foremost contemporary writers of novels, short stories, and film and radio scripts. She is also a stand-up comic—and if the cheeky FAQ’s on her website are any indication, her act is well worth checking out. Her short story collections include the multi-award-winning Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains, Original Bliss and What Becomes; among her award-winning novels are So I Am Glad, Everything You Need and DayRead more

Rebecca Rosenblum Ontario

Rebecca Rosenblum works in publishing during the day, writes short stories evenings and weekends, and…that’s pretty much it. She spends her remaining time on the bus or asleep or both. Her short fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, and shortlisted for the Journey Prize, the National Magazine Award and the Danuta Gleed Award. Her first collection of stories, Once, won the Metcalf-Rooke Award. Her latest collection is The Big Dream. She lives in Toronto. Read more

Jessica Westhead Ontario

Jessica Westhead's short stories have appeared in major literary journals in Canada and the United States. Her first novel, Pulpy & Midge, was nominated for the ReLit Award. Her short-story collection And Also Sharks, published last year, was a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book, a nominee for the CBC Bookie Awards, and a finalist for the Danuta Gleed Short Fiction Prize. In 2012, CBC Books named Jessica one of the “10 Canadian women writers you need to read now.” She lives in Toronto. Read more

Friday, October 19, 2012 - 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Improv Centre
$17 / $8.50 for student groups

Click here to order school group tickets.

Off-kilter, slightly twisted characters are perfect fodder for fiction. You might not want to have them to dinner, but they’re great to inhabit your imagination for a while. A.L. Kennedy’s new novel features a nomadic psychic who’s made a fortune out of fraud but gives generously to charity. Jessica Westhead presents stories about misfits and supremely neurotic protagonists. Rebecca Rosenblum plumbs the offices of a lifestyle magazine for her characters—lonely, frail stoics who may hope for rescue but certainly don’t expect it. Gay dwarves don’t appear in Anne Fleming’s Gay Dwarves of America, but there is a hockey mom who imagines she’s Swiss. We read fiction to broaden our worlds and meet interesting characters—and you’ll be sure to meet the human carnival this afternoon.

Bookmark  and Share

View the study guide for this event.

The Human Carnival

Curriculum Connections:

  • Language arts: character development


  1. Draw a large stick figure on the board. Draw arrows from its head, mouth, heart, and body. Label the head “thoughts” (expressed through a particular point of view); label the mouth “speech” (dialogue); label the heart “emotions”; and label the body “physical descriptions and actions.”
  2. Explain that characters are often similar to human beings in the real world. A character is a person (or sometimes an animal) who takes part in the action of a work of literature. Generally, the plot of a short story focuses on one character—called the main character. A story may also have one or more minor characters. They keep the action moving forward and help the reader learn more about the main character.
  3. Explain that typically, not all character traits are revealed at the same time. Information about characters is given to the reader in pieces and clues throughout the story. Sometimes, however, it may be necessary to give a short sketch of your main character at or near the beginning of the story. Characters are defined in a variety of ways through thoughts and emotions, dialogue, actions, and physical descriptions. Explain that authors use these elements to make characters believable.
  4. Review the handout Revealing a Character: An Example. Have students read the passage in which all four techniques are used to characterize a girl named Kelly who is visiting Sally O'Brien, her best friend. In the passage, Mrs. O'Brien is Sally's grandmother. Show the students the following statements, and have them point out the lines from the excerpt that prove each statement and name the methods of characterization used.
    Kelly has a ponytail.
    • Kelly thinks that Mrs. O'Brien has a sour face.
     Kelly is concerned about Sally.
    • Sally’s mother was nice to Kelly.
  5. Pass out the Methods of Characterization worksheet and magazines. Have students complete the worksheet by choosing a photograph of a person or animal (or other image they'd like to personify) from a magazine and providing 2-3 details for each method of description listed on the chart. The physical description of the character in the magazine is clear, but it is up to the student to decide which details they would like to reveal to the reader.
  6. Ask students to share their character and characterization details with the class. Ask students to explain their choices. Discuss details that reveal character traits effectively. Make suggestions about details that might benefit from sharper descriptions.

Build Knowledge

  1. Now that students have had a brief introduction to characterization, reiterate that it is a literary element with multiple moving parts and elements. In other words, the use of other literary elements is necessary in order for characterization to be successful (For the elements of fiction, see the Read WriteThink lesson, Book Report Alternative: The Elements of Fiction.)
  2. Review and discuss the following terms.
    Dialogue: The conversation of characters in a literary work. Dialogue is typically enclosed within quotation marks in works of fiction. Dialogue may stand in stark contrast to exposition as it comes directly from the characters.
    Diction: The selection of words in a literary work. The words used by an author to reveal character, convey action, demonstrate attitudes, and indicate values. Diction may be lofty, plain, common, etc.
    Dialect: the form of language spoken by people in a particular region or group. In a literary work, dialect may be used to paint a true picture of the characters.
    Point of view: The angle or perspective from which a story is told.
    First person point of view: The narrator is a character or observer in the story. In general, the narrator participates in the story’s action. A first person narrator is not objective and the reader must keep this in mind.
    Objective point of view: The narrator tells what happens in a story without stating more than can be inferred from the action and dialogue. The narrator is a detached and does not disclose anything about what the characters think or feel.
    Third person point of view: The narrator does not participate in the story’s action. He or she is not one of the characters, but is able to relay to the reader how the characters think and feel. This outside voice is limited, or only has access to the characters’ impressions.
    Omniscient point of view: The narrator knows everything about all the characters. He or she is all knowing or omniscient.
  3. Pass out excerpts of several works of literature that illustrate each method of characterization. Lead a shared reading of the excerpts. Identify the information that can be gathered about the characters. Have students highlight or underline examples. Discuss how the writers use characterization as a literary technique and how point of view impacts the story. Evaluate the success of the characterizations. Ask students to note what they like and dislike about each excerpt/technique.
  4. Ask students the following discussion questions:
    Think about the characters in some of your favorite books. What qualities did these characters have that attracted you to them? How did the author express those qualities? Have you ever read a book that did not have interesting characters? How did this affect your view of the book?


Literature excerpts that illustrate characterization

  1. Pair students. Have them work together to complete one (or more) of the following writing assignments:
    • Write a characterization of someone you know. Let the reader decide from your writing what kind of person you are describing. Show, do not tell.
    • Create a character. Describe your character completely. Use details that help your readers imagine completely your creature or person.
    • Describe a person or character whose physical appearance impressed you. The person may have been stunning, extraordinarily plain, physically challenged, cruel or sinister looking, etc. In what kind of mystery/riddle could the character be involved?
  2. Divide the class into small groups and give each group a list of character traits. Have each group create a character who illustrates its list of traits but without using the actual adjectives. Then have each group read its characterization aloud so other students can attempt to determine which adjectives the character exemplifies. If time allows, try a variation of this activity. Give every group a list of the same adjectives; the class could then analyze different ways to illustrate the same character traits.
  3. Help students better understand dialogue. Distribute the student Writing Dialogue handout containing guidelines for writing dialogue and the choices for writing assignment topics. Students should complete one or more of the writing assignments outlined on the handout.
  4. Help students better understand point of view. Have students complete one or more of the assignments on the accompanying Point of View Assignment handout.


  1. Have students write an essay that defines and analyzes characterization as a literary element/technique.
  • Students should work independently. In their own words, they should define characterization and explain how and why it is used in literature. Students should support their essays with examples from three or four literary works. Essays should include an evaluation of the supplemental elements dialogue, diction, dialect, and point of view.


  1. Have students write a short story that employs each device used in characterization. Students should work independently. The short story should use the different methods of characterization, including dialogue, to develop characters and plot. The point of view of the short story should be clear and consistent.
  2. Have students share their essays/stories. Students can share in small groups or with the whole class.
  3. Have students offer constructive criticism for the essays/stories. Follow the pre-established rules for criticism. Allow the class discussion to include criticism of the work of well-known authors.

Source: Arts Edge Kennedy Centre.org