Character Development through Iconic Landmarks

In exploration of Paris for Year 11 Narratives that Shape our World we considered how this exotic city is represented in two texts:

  • Ernest Hemingway’s memoir A Movable Feast, and
  • Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

During a creative writing double period, we considered what we learn about characters from how they represent a specific landmark. These activities grew from an earlier English Extension lesson where we considered the introduction of four characters in Five Bells by Gail Jones.

I read the following extracts aloud, one at a time, then asked students for their first impressions of each character.

Ellie

It was moon-white and seemed to hold within it a great, serious stillness. The fan of its chambers leant together, inclining to the water. An unfolding thing, shutters, a sequence of sorts. Ellis marvelled that it had ever been created at all, so singular a building, so potentially faddish, or odd. And that shape of supplication, like a body bending into the abstraction of a low bow or a theological gesture. Ellie could imagine music in there, but not people, somehow. It looked poised in a kind of alertness to acoustical meanings, concentrating on sound waves, opened to circuit and flow.

p. 3

James

Then he saw it looming in the middle distance, too pre-empted to be singular. It appeared on T-shirts, on towels, even trapped in plastic domes of snow; it could never exist other than as a replication, claiming the prestige of an icon. It maws opened to the sky in a perpetual devouring.

    White teeth, James thought. Almost like teeth. And although he had seen the image of this building countless times before, it was only in its presence, here-now, that the analogy occurred to him. The monumental is never precisely what we expect.

p. 5

Pei Xing

There it was, jade-white, lifting above the water. She never tired of seeing this form. It was a fixture she relied on. The shapes rested, like porcelain bowls, stacked one upon the other, fragile, tipped, in an unexpected harmony.

p. 12

Catherine

And beyond the farthest, and down a curving wharf, there it was, nestling before her, its folded forms stretching upwards, its petal life extending. The peaked shapes might have derived from a bowl of white roses, from the moment when they’re tired and leaning, just about to subside. Blown, that strange term, a bowl of blown roses. She had not expected intimations of wind and flowers from something so essentially hard and bright. She had not expected to be reminded, obscurely, of her own body.

pp. 14-15

from Five Bells by Gail Jones, Vintage Books, 2011.

Students nominated a gender, age and specific personality traits for each character based on their impression of the Sydney Opera House. Decisions were based on the choices made by Jones, as well as different language features.

Next, we spent a few moments examining four different images of the Luna Park face.

For each image, we then

  • identified an emotion or memory
  • developed a word bank: colour, texture, time of day, noise level, lighting, angle
  • gave each character a name, gender, personality traits eg. secretive? curious? foolish? sadistic? chatty?
  • chose a point of view – first person? omniscient narrator?

There was a brief discussion, then writing time and sharing – pomodoro style.

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