Writing 101: A Character-Building Experience
Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?
Our stories are inevitably linked to the people around us. We are social creatures: from the family members and friends who’ve known us since childhood, to the coworkers, service providers, and strangers who populate our world (and, at times, leave an unexpected mark on us).
Today, write a post focusing on one — or more — of the people that have recently entered your life, and tell us how your narratives intersected. It can be your new partner, your newborn child, or the friendly barista whose real story you’d love to learn (or imagine), or any other person you’ve met for the first time in the past year.
Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.
In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations!
– Anton Chekhov, Letter to Alexander Chekhov; May 10, 1886
Describing people — whether real or fictional — in a way that channels their true essence is an invaluable skill for any writer. Through the careful accumulation of details, great authors morph their words into vivid, flesh-and-bones creations in our minds. How can you go about shaping your portrait of a person? Some ideas to explore:
Don’t just list their features. Tell us something about how their physical appearance shapes the way they act and engage with others. For example, see how the author of this moving photo essay, which documents the final weeks of a woman dying of cancer, captures the kernel of the woman’s spirit with a short, masterful statement:
Her eyes told stories that her voice didn’t have the power to articulate and she had a kindness that immediately made me feel like we had been friends for years.
Give us a glimpse of what makes this person unique. We all have our own quirks, mannerisms, and individual gestures, both physical and linguistic. If you’re looking for inspiration, read this blogger’s portrait of her French host family — after reading the first two paragraphs, you already have intimate knowledge of who these people are and what drives them.
Need a helping hand? Head to The Commons.