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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday Writing Challenge!

Hey all--

I had so much fun with my recent Monday Writing Challenge, I've decided to host another one! This week will be all about character development on my blog. We've all read novels that unfortunately feature characters about as flat as a New York thin crust pizza; later on in the week, I'll be posting about what makes a character believable and "round."

But first--your challenge! Pick a stranger--this could be someone you see in the library, at the pool, on the street, or in the grocery store--and write a 250-word description about who he/she is, where he/she is headed, and what he/she wants. All of this information should be threaded together along with a physical description that will evoke the character's personality.

That's right:I said evoke the character's personality...not evoke the character's physicality.

You might be asking, at this point--but Lauren, whatever do you mean? Isn't physical description all ABOUT what the character looks like?

The answer, surprisingly, is no. Good physical description tells us more about a character's MORAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL qualities. This might be surprising, but consider the following examples:

1. Casey Bellweather was 5'9" tall, and had shoulder-length blond hair that she wore parted in the middle. She had even white teeth, a dimple in her left cheek, and she weighed 135 lbs. She was wearing wedge heels, shorts, and a collared t-shirt.

Even though it's super specific--and you might be able to picture Casey--you don't know anything of actual value about her.

Now consider this:

2. Casey Bellweather was model tall, and still insisted on breezing through the hall in wedge heels that added an extra two inches to her outrageously long legs, and made her look like a ship sailing high above the dingy swells of the Thomspon High School halls. Her hair was forever parted perfectly and exactly down the middle, even after field hockey practice when the rest of us looked like we'd just been attacked by a leaf-blower. Whenever she was late to class, or flaked on an assignment,all she had to do was flash her perfect white teeth, and that little dimple in her left cheek, and Boom! She was forgiven.

Okay, so it's a little longer, but what do you now know about Casey? Casey is that kind of girl. The one we all love to hate. And even better than the fact you now know more about her--I've made you feel something! Because don't you kind of despise Casey now??

Last example:

3. Casey Bellweather had been 5'9" since the age of 11, and despite the fact that she had recently started wearing heels--the scuffed up wedges were the latest example--you could tell she'd never really gotten used to it. She wore her hair parted exactly down the middle, every day, like a little kid, so it hung like a curtain around her face; and she had developed a habit of scrunching herself into her seat as soon as she arrived in class, as though she was trying to make herself as small as possible. She hardly ever smiled, and when she did she covered her mouth with her hand, even though she had nice, even teeth and a dimple in her left cheek.

Casey just became someone very different, right? And again, more importantly, you feel something different for her?

The whole point is, it's not about the details, but about what details you choose to highlight, and how you choose to describe them, in relation to the overall whole. Remember--people only care about physical description in so far as it reveals something about a character's PERSONALITY.

With that in mind, sally merrily forth on your challenge! I'll post up your submissions in a few days...



Lynsey Newton said...

I'd be interested in seeing examples written from the first person though - I guess that would be in the WAY someone was talking and the gestures they made?

OR - I guess if you're writing a two person POV, one character could be describing the other?

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