It is often said that it is not the life that matters, but the courage one brings to it. Four acclaimed authors from the U.K., Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands, discuss how the characters in their books summon the courage to overcome obstacles and live the kind of life they aspire to. Do writers get a kind of freedom, a way to problem solve issues from their own lives and even an opportunity to test their own mettle, through their characters? Matt De La Peña asks David Almond, Alina Bronsky, Janne Teller, and Tommy Wieringa to share how their characters face down obstacles, both internal and external, and what their work means to their own lives.

Themes: overcoming obstacles, personal loss, regret
Skills: identifying types of conflict in literature, identifying elements of plot in a narrative, analyzing conflicts in literature using text evidence to support claims, writing first person narratives
Knowledge: internal and external conflict; types of conflict; and elements of plot including exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution


  • After each brief reading, ask students to identify the types of conflict each character faces: character v. self, character v. nature, character v. society, character v. fate, or character v. supernatural
  • During this panel, David Almond discusses the freedom of storytelling in different forms. Use his discussion of the many mediums through which he tells stories to introduce an experimental storytelling project, in which students use illustration, prose, poetry, video, book building, etc. to tell a story.
  • During this panel, moderator Matt de la Peña asks the panelists if the brainstorming process begins with a character, the plot, the concept, or the theme. After hearing the panelists’ responses, use Matt’s question as the premise for a brainstorming exercise. Ask students to choose one of these four things to build a story around. If a student chooses character, have them flesh out the details of a single character. What does the character look like, feel like, sound like, desire, fear, etc. This will simplify the writing process for reluctant writers, daunted by the task ahead of them.