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9 — A character from ancient Rome in a modern work of fiction

The cover of 'The Assassins of Rome' by Caroline Lawrence from The Roman Mysteries series, depicting a hooded person with a sheathed sword on their back, crouching on a high parapet overlooking a Roman city square

Above: Cover from The Assassins of Rome by Caroline Lawrence, Orion Children's Books, London, 2002 reproduced with permission of Orion Children's Books.

This is the third and final sequence in a series of three focusing on the novel The Assassins of Rome. This sequence focuses on specific techniques the author has used to develop one of the main characters in the book.

In this sequence, students will have the opportunity to employ similar techniques in a short piece of their own writing where they develop a character from the world of ancient Rome (which in turn will scaffold the production of their fictional text in Assessment task 2).

Introduction: What is one character's journey in the story?

Recap the last sequence’s analysis of characterisation in the text and revise how the author characterised Johnathon in the first chapter. Re-read pages 140–44 where Johnathon discusses his mother with Rizpah. Ask the students to identify how Johnathon has changed from the beginning of the text to this point. For example, at the beginning of the book, Johnathon was pessimistic and anxious, unable to express his feelings beyond worries and complaints. However, by this part of the text he has learnt to release his emotions and has started to have a more positive outlook, accepting that although his mother is a slave, at least she is alive.

Students find quotes from the four pages they have just read to support their opinions (see the Example quote). How has the author used different devices to show these changes? ACELT1619ACELT1620

Activity 1: How can action and dialogue be used to develop a character?

Re-read pages 113–15 and 118–20, where Johnathon is caught as a suspected assassin and then branded as a slave. Ask the students what new aspects we learn about Johnathon’s character that we did not know previously. Jointly identify some of Johnathon’s gestures, actions or perceptions that help us to understand him better (for example, Johnathon feeling ill when he thinks about Simeon being tortured). Students independently complete the first part of the Characterisation devices worksheet to record their ideas. Feedback ideas as a whole class.

Students independently complete the same activity for the second half of the Characterisation devices worksheet, focusing on Johnathon’s dialogue, and again feedback ideas as a whole class. ACELT1621ACELT1622

Activity 2: What is the grammar of characterisation and how does it work?

Re-read chapter 1. Inform the students that an effective way to build characterisation is through the use of verb and adverb groups rather than direct description through noun groups. Why do they think this is the case? For example, on page 2, ‘Johnathon made a sour face’, on page 3, ‘“A dog collar?” he said with a frown’ and on page 4, ‘Johnathon made a sour face, put down the scroll and examined the blue bag it had been wrapped in’. As a class, create examples of verb and adverb groups that could be used to characterise the teacher, and record them on an interactive whiteboard (for example, ‘Ms Smith glared at the frightened student and slammed the pen down angrily’). In pairs or small groups, students identify examples of verb and adverb groups in Chapter 1 used to characterise Johnathon and discuss their effectiveness. ACELT1621ACELT1622

Activity 3: How can you develop your own character?

Using the Character profile worksheet, which was also used in the last sequence, students create their own character profile for a character, which they could use in their own novel set in ancient Rome. Using this profile, they then draft an introductory paragraph about their character using verb and adverb groups, action and dialogue. Refer back to pages 1 and 2 of the book to remind the students how the author initially characterised Johnathon using these devices. Scan in or photocopy the students’ work and jointly edit some examples. ACELT1621,    ACELT1622,    ACELY1726,   ACDSEH038,   ACDSEH039

Student reflective journal

Students should spend 5–10 minutes responding to the reflection questions for this sequence, either in written form or orally, and then assess their responses against the success criteria using the rubric provided.