Character Development Challenge with The Canterbury Tales

Character Development Challenge with The Canterbury Tales …

character development
Pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales

It is a good idea for a writer to once in a while shake things up a bit – test your creativity, expand your skills, try something new, challenge one’s self, therefore I offer some help in this endeavor.

I am going to throw out a challenge to you. It is a difficult one however it should be fun. First, let us take a closer look at The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer to see great examples of character development.

Geoffrey Chaucer begins The Canterbury Tales in an interesting way, he starts with character development using poetry to describe each of his twenty-nine characters.

These characters are pilgrims traveling from London to Canterbury in order to venerate the shrine of Thomas Becket. They stop at a tavern where the host proposes a contest to determine who can tell the best story and therefore the characters begin to craft tales.

Addressing the reader, Chaucer begins to introduce the characters, the first being a knight, when he has the 29 pilgrims at the inn, in the following excerpt:

But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And whiche they weren, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne;
And at a knyght than wol I first bigynne.
A KNYGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre,
As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,
And evere honoured for his worthynesse;
At Alisaundre he was whan it was wonne.
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle nacions in Pruce;
In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce,
No Cristen man so ofte of his degree.

Chaucer assigns specific attributes to each of his characters. He sets them in a medieval estate satire and describes each character in a stereotypical manner associated with their station in life.

This technique is extremely important as to the tales told for it follows that each story is written in the style and tone of a character’s social class. Thus, scholars gain a better understanding of the social and political makeup of medieval England.

It was very clever of Chaucer to describe the people who will tell the tales rather than describing the tales which makes it clear that the structure of the book depends on the characters and not a general theme or moral.

Following this technique throughout, the characters and their tales paint an ironic and critical portrait of English society at the time.

It is the skill of a master writer to have fictional characters express a variety of insights into customs and practices of the time. His use of such a wide range of social classes and types of people was unprecedented in the English language.

The Canterbury Tales was written by Chaucer in Middle English between 1387 and 1400. It was then passed down in various handwritten manuscripts.

The greatest contribution of The Canterbury Tales to English literature was the popularisation of the English vernacular in mainstream literature, as opposed to French, Italian or Latin.

The use of the English vernacular as an acceptable language for artistic expression laid the groundwork for all great English works to come. The Canterbury Tales is revered as one of the most important works in English literature.

There is much to read, discuss, and learn about The Canterbury Tales, however, I am running out of space here and want to get to the purpose of this article and that is to propose a challenge to any TCE author who would like to step up and accept my challenge of character development.

Remember, I mentioned this will be a difficult task but a lot of fun. Some of you may just zip right through the whole challenge. Plus, the challenge will provide you with several new articles to write, thereby boosting your exposure to readers and possibly creating a book that will become a memorable classic which you can publish on Amazon.

Here’s the plan:

  • Although Chaucer has over 100 stories from twenty-nine pilgrims in the tales, I do not expect you to have more than five fictional characters with one or two stories from each. However, you can create as many as you like.
  • Your first article will be an introduction to your characters in poetry or prose form.
  • You choose your own titles. One suggestion is Tales From TCE by (your name), Canto One. A canto is a principal form of division in medieval and modern long poetry (ie: “Dante’s Divine Comedy has 100 cantos”).
  • You choose the time period and the mood of your book.
  • Subsequent articles will be the tales each character tells. Remember to provide a link in each tale back to your introduction article.
  • That is it. Now, it is up to you to carry on. Also, remember to share your tales on social media where you may pick up some new followers.
  • Have fun with this challenge. I look forward to reading your book of tales.


© 2020 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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Phyllis Doyle Burns

I am an author on TCE and write mainly in poetry and short stories. I have always liked to write. It is important to me that writing comes from my heart and soul. When writing poetry, if I do not feel a spiritual connection to what I am writing on, I will discard it and go on to something I can connect with on a spiritual level. I live in the moment, I write from the past or beyond the veil. When writing fiction I go with whatever inspires me at the moment - it could be funny, sorrowful, romantic or sometimes done with the use of colloquial language from mountain folk or other cultural regions. I began writing content online in 2007, starting with BellaOnline - A Voice For Women, where I was the Native American Editor, Folklore & Mythology Editor, and the Appalachian Editor. I also wrote articles for The Examiner, Daily Two Cents, and Yahoo. I am currently an author on HubPages. Most of what I write takes a lot of research and I love it. Even if it is a fictional story, I will research for accuracy in whatever it takes to make my characters, their era, their location, etc. become realistic to the reader. I hope you enjoy my works. Thank you for visiting.

6 thoughts on “Character Development Challenge with The Canterbury Tales

  • February 29, 2020 at 5:52 PM

    First of all, I love all your challenges. Second, what a great idea. Examining character is a place where I need practice. This may not be ready for a few months but I will be working. Thank you Phyllis for the direction and a reminder of a great poem. Jamie

    • February 29, 2020 at 9:33 PM

      You are most welcome, Jamie. Yes, you are right – it will take a long time to complete this challenge. I think it will be well worth the work because you will learn at your own pace and maybe come out of it with a book to publish. Character development is so important and sometimes I feel as if my characters are real people. I admire your enthusiasm to take on a challenge. Good on you, Jamie. Thank you for reading and embracing the idea.

  • March 2, 2020 at 2:18 PM

    Very good advice here Phylllis – all writers could use a little help with character development – My characters in my book are real people – I live and breath them, I feel their happiness, and their sad… I write in the 1st person, because I need to be in my main hero’s head and now his weaknesses and strengths. Just my 2 cents worth…

    • March 2, 2020 at 5:00 PM

      Thank you, Kurt, for the great comment, I appreciate it. I am much like you with characters – I like to get inside my main character’s head to really know him/her, feel their emotions, know how they operate, and where they are coming from. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • March 6, 2020 at 5:18 AM

    Wow, that is quite a challenge, Phyllis. This would certainly test a writer’s skills and shake things up. Glad to see Jamie embracing the challenge. I commend you for this but sadly I don’t have the time to take on something this big.

    • March 6, 2020 at 11:59 AM

      Hi John. Thanks for reading and commenting. Yep – it is a big challenge, but hold on to the idea for some day when you find time to give it a go. It would be time consuming, but one can write just a little at a time. Glad you enjoyed the article. Take care.

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