Okay all...so thanks so much for your responses to this week's writing challenge! I really love reading your work. I hope you're finding this kind of fun--at the very least, I think the writing prompts are a good way to jump back into work after the weekend. :)
This week is all about character and character description. Below, I've posted four excellent (and very different) character descriptions I received.
From Stephanie Sanders:
Alexander Devine was no ordinary bookstore clerk, when he walked up and down the aisles he had the grace of the wind and the posture of a Greek statue. As he walked passed me he slightly tilled his head in a modern day bow, flashing his bright teeth. His dark eyes sparkled and in contrast to his very light skin, made them look sinister. With all his grace and charm on the outside, I wondered what those eyes were hiding on the inside
What I really like about Stephanie's description is that she contrasts our expectation of what a bookstore clerk should be with the actual characteristics of this bookstore clerk--in other words, she uses and then subverts the reader's expectations. This is a great technique for making a reader feel engaged with the material.
From Kate (of I Just Want To Sit Here And Read!)
Jake Johnson was 5’8 and thin, almost sickly. He was self-conscious of the bones protruding from his skin. His skin was a pale white and there were severe shadows under his eyes. He pulled his hand through his thinning dark hair, or whatever was left of it from his non-forgiving genetics. He looked down at his hand and shook off random strands. His shirt was white but stained with coffee and chocolate from his breakfast. He hadn’t had time to change before work and cursed himself for the lack of attention to hygiene. After a long day sitting in a cubicle, answering ridiculous phone calls from whiny customers, he just wanted to get his deli meat. He stood in line, four people deep, itching for the opportunity to order and get the hell out of there. His foot tapped with anticipation as the woman in front of him needed to order for the whole neighborhood, it seemed. When it was his chance he raced to the counter and tripped over his worn shoes. He looked down and cursed at his non-functioning feet. He gave his order quickly and looked around the market, wishing for a way out. He just needed to get his lunch meat and a few other necessities then he would be out of there and home. Home sweet home. Where he can relax and shake off the horrible day that just occurred. Drink himself into oblivion and pray for the next to be better.
I love Kate's use of detail here, in particular the fact that Jake is waiting impatiently for deli meats after work. There are many other indications in this paragraph that he is kind of lonely, and pathetic, but in some ways she doesn't even need them--all we need to know is that he is waiting to get lunch meat for dinner, and we KNOW that!
From Elizabeth D:
Leon Benson was tall and lanky, with dark brown hair that stuck up in an untidy, yet endearing fashion. The girls at Sunnyvale high sometimes whispered that he could be cute, if it wasn’t for the fact that he hunched when he walked, and despite his brilliant blue eyes, he always looked at the ground when he talked. That is, on the rare occasion that he talked at all. His parents were divorced and his clothes were always ripped and baggy, one size too large. But Leon had a good heart. Rumour had it that the criss-crossed scar on his left shoulder was from when he jumped in front of a motorbike to save a kid he didn’t even know, and once, after a freshman failed her algebra exam and was crying outside in the hallway, Leon sat down next to her, and soon they were both smiling and laughing. Laughing wasn’t something that Leon did often. But I heard him once, years ago. And I’ve been trying to get his attention ever since.
This is a great example of description that makes us feel something. In some ways, we don't even need the phrase "But Leon had a good heart." You could strike it out entirely, and the reader would still be left feeling that Leon was kind of dorky, potentially pitiable, but ultimately a wonderful person. And I love the last three lines. it makes you want to read on and see if she DOES get his attention, doesn't it?
From Nichola Hughes:
Derek was a gambling man. Every move he made told you so. His portly frame hovered at the edge of the checkout queue in the store- not in line, and not out of it. His flat cap was pulled down over his wrinkled brow and he hunched his broad shoulders so as not to catch the eye of any other shopper. He rubbed his weathered palms together nervously and shuffled his battered sneakers waiting for his chance to cut in line. The customer at the checkout finished paying and Derek chanced his luck, darting in front of the next woman in the queue and flashing the cashier his bright blue eyes and a wide, but gruesome (and mainly toothless) grin.
“A ticket for tomorrow’s lotto,” he chirped before she had chance to protest, “and if you could give me the right numbers, that would be great”.
The queue behind tutted in annoyance and he turned his head to the woman he’d cut in front of, scrunching the right side of his rosy face into a cheeky wink. He paid the cashier and shuffled off, at a remarkably slower pace than that he’d used when jumping the queue, calling back over his shoulder “All I have to do now is come back tomorrow and pick up my winnings!”
One of the great things about Nichola's description is that she INTERWEAVES description and action. Often, new writers fall into a trap of the "checkerboard" model: description followed by action, followed by more description, followed by more action. But Nichola moves the story forward as she is describing her protagonist.
Thanks, all, for participating! Stay tuned for the next challenge...