Motivational Monday Writing Challenge continues!
How many times have you sat in a coffee shop or a mall or a restaurant and found characters around you interesting? Hopefully a lot, because that is what we writers do. We are always on the lookout for stories. We even eavesdrop at cafes and restaurants to get a glimpse into the stories of others lives. With Summer upon us, we may be watching people at the beach or the farmers market, listening to them, gathering intel. These are opportunities to pull out our phone and send ourselves a quick email of what we have seen or
heard, or maybe even snap a quick picture to send to ourselves so we can write the character sketch later.
Character sketches are good exercises, especially for summer. If done in the way described above, they are quick and easy. The sketches exercise that muscle of description. This practice also helps with whatever major work we are doing, because we begin to see similarities to some event we already have in our piece, giving us more information to add to a scene or character. Give it a try! Below, I am including the text of an email I sent to myself while sitting in a bakery as an example to get you started.
The Christmas Tree Guy by Theresa Duncan (unedited)
Male, about 5’9”, hunched over a bit when he walks so that he is always looking at the ground rather than straight ahead. Thin, gray hair; the dark leathery skin of someone who spends a good deal of time outside. He always wears blue jeans and a pattered shirt, usually all faded. Kind of like him – faded, worked hard, soft and somewhat frail, thin. Dark, cowboy boots – the color of dust. He parks his brown (also faded/oxidized) Toyota Four Runner (late 80’s or early 90’s era) across the street in front of the old, brick post office. He jaywalks to the bakery, orders a large salad “for here,” then walks across the street to sit on the concrete flower bed ledge in front of the post office to eat it (glass plate, metal fork). He is always alone.
Strapped to the top of his vehicle for well over a year now there has been a Christmas tree. At first it had needles, then it didn’t. Now it is old, dried, and bare. I cannot figure out what holds it there, why the brittle branches don’t break and the whole thing fly off. Why doesn’t he take it off? Is he making some kind of political statement? Or he just doesn’t care? Did some tragedy occur that took him from celebrating the holiday to despising it, but unable to let go of the reminder?
When he finishes his salad, every last bite, he jaywalks back to the bakery, turns in his plate and fork, jaywalks back to his Four Runner and drives away.
I never see him anywhere else – a grocery or drug store – not even at a stoplight. (Hamilton, Montana, is a small city.) My daughter, I find out later, has seen him around town at those places, has noticed the tree, always wonders about it, too.
(Sadly, I have never gotten a good picture of the vehicle to share with you. Sorry.)
What do you notice about this man? What would your questions be? Does this character sketch remind you of someone you have seen? If so, write a character sketch of that person from memory. If not, think of some other interesting character you have seen. Remember to include whatever questions you might have about their story in the sketch.
Snap a picture of someone you see that may have an interesting story. Send it to yourself. During your next writing time, pull up the picture and write a character sketch of the person in the photo.
You may want to add these character sketches to a file on your computer, or write or print them out to put in a notebook of character sketches. If you do the latter, be sure to leave wide margins, so you can add more information later.
Happy writing… ~T
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