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In Search of the Novel

Who Am I In This Story?

The reader steps into the novel in various roles: the protagonist, the narrator, the author, or another character.

Goals and Objectives

Upon completion of this workshop lesson, teachers will be able to:

  1. Help students explore the ways in which they can empathize with characters and vicariously experience novels.
  2. Design a lesson plan that allows students the freedom to explore the importance of empathy to the novel.

Participants’ Comments and Observations

J. K. Rowling: There’s a part in Book One where Harry sees his stepparents in an enchanted mirror. I was quite taken aback when I re-read that chapter to see how much I had directly given Harry my own feelings because I wasn’t aware of that as I was writing. As I was writing, I mean, I’m trying to do the thing properly that needed to happen for plot reasons. If people have read the book, they will know Harry had to find out how that mirror worked. But when I re-read the chapter, it became very clear to me that I had given Harry almost entirely my own feelings about my mother’s death.

Leslie Marmon Silko: My second novel has some pretty outrageous villainous characters, and I have to admit, I was right inside them. I have to own up to saying that everything that they imagined and felt, I imagined and felt. I think that if a writer can’t put herself inside the skin of all of her characters, if she’s not sympathetic with them or doesn’t like them enough, it will show, and the readers will feel a distance. And so I just imagine that I’m standing right there. I’m there doing it.

Arthur Golden: There are differences between the genders. But I think that a fiction writer’s job is to put himself into the mind of someone different from him or her. The character and the writer are not the same.

Daniel Keyes: I will give each character a little piece of myself, meaning a memory of mine, a dream of mine, a hope, an experience, an actual event. I couldn’t just give Charlie a piece of myself. He became too important to me. He became too real to me. So I didn’t know who this person was. Where was I going to get his memories? I gave him my memories. How was I going to give him his hopes and fears? I gave him mine.

: Every student has to find himself or herself in the story somehow.

Teacher: In some of these stories, they hear a character who speaks in a voice that they wish for or that they connect with or they think if this person can speak, I have room to speak here. Maybe sometimes the story becomes their own because they find that. Sometimes it’s a voice that they hear and they think this isn’t a voice that I want to hear. I need to speak out against this voice. There needs to be another voice other than this one and the story comes alive.

Teacher: Maybe it’s not, “This is my story,” but it is a story, one worth being a guest in and worth inviting into the house.