fiction · Uncategorized

An Exercise in Characterization


As many of you know I am in the final phase of draft 1 of my first novel. I’m in the process of tying up loose ends in the plot and bringing forth a resolution. This is definitely the hardest part thus far of writing as I’m trying to make sure that all conflicts are brought to a nice close. One that doesn’t feel too forced, but rather is naturally based on the characters and their personalities.

So as I prepare to bring about natural endings to the multiple conflicts of my book I was inspired by a student to take part in an exercise in characterization.

Every year right before Christmas Break I have my English students present to the class about a book they read on their own over the last quarter. One of my more motivated and well-read students created a presentation on Prezi. He had recently read The Catcher in the Rye, and decided to describe Holden Caulfield in 100 words in addition to the assignment.

He stood in front of his peers and recited his list of adjectives and pronouns followed by a standing round of applause from the class.

After his presentation, several of my students inquired about how to get a copy of the book to read over Christmas break. In his presentation about the main character, this student piqued the interest of his peers. They were intrigued by his descriptions of Caulfield and the students’ obvious enjoyment of the book.

So this morning as I sit and think about the novel I am working on I decided to take some time to find descriptive words and phrases for my main character. My novel is actually told from two perspectives so I decided to split up the number a bit. Below is my main characters each in 30 words.

Character: Kurt Robinson

homeless, driven, disciplined, self-conscious, embarrassed, articulate, former carpenter, honest, trustworthy, intelligent, recovering addict, ex-boyfriend, father, friend, resourceful, pickpocket, nervous, frugal, dirty, brunette, bearded, park bench-dweller, friendly, rough, lonely, veteran, round, faithful, happy, reader

Character: Michael Walker

writer, son, self-conscious, editor, minimalist, caring, distant, runner, graduate, obsessive, charming, boyish, traveler, coffee-drinker, friend, city-dweller, Volvo driver, clean, well-groomed, spectacle wearer, trusting, secretive, mourner, brother, grey-eyed, blond, fatherless, in-shape, hard working, beloved

As a writer this exercise has been helpful in rounding out the story. I think back to different scenes in the story where different adjectives are presented to describe these characters. These words contribute to how I bring a natural close to those plot lines. I hope that this exercise intrigues you. And if your wondering about some of the words that seem contradictory I guess you will have to wait and see how the same character can be both honest and a pickpocket, or both a friend and secretive.


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