Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Characters


Describe your characters in such a way that the reader has a composite sketch of them but not a photograph. Give your reader enough room to fill in the blanks. However, describing a character as “Marilyn Monroe-esque” helps paint the picture immediately with a familiar reference and without bogging them down with too many details.

I already know what I think of myself and can only imagine what other people think of me. A great quote from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is when Mr. Toohey asks the idealistic architect, Howard Roark, “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us,” to which Roark replies, “But I don’t think of you.” For this exercise, you must dig deep—remove yourself from your writing and step into the mind (if not the shoes) of someone who knows you fairly well. You are not looking in the mirror, but at yourself looking in the mirror.

What people choose to display in their office can tell you a lot about them. The same goes for their Facebook page.

Will your story be one of redemption or contamination? I try to live the story I want to tell or the story I want someone to tell about me.

Describe a character’s bedroom in such a way your reader will feel they know that character without having met them yet.

There is the good, the bad, and the mediocre, but the films that keep me thinking about them, long after I’ve seen them, are the ones in which I see myself in one of the characters.

Strunk and White are right but, if it is out of character for your character to say “simultaneously,” rather than “at the same time,” go for authenticity.

Every family has one of these.

You can turn your life (or someone else’s) into a fairy tale, a horror story, a dramedy, et cetera. It all depends on the perception you choose.

Humans often contradict themselves. We don’t always make sense or understand why we do the things we do. The interesting part is when the character (or reader) tries to figure out the “why.”

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