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Writing 101, Day Six: A Character-Building Experience

Today, you’ll write about the most interesting person you’ve met in 2014. In your twist, develop and shape your portrait further in a character study.

Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

Our stories are inevitably linked to the people around us. We are social creatures: from the family members and friends who’ve known us since childhood, to the coworkers, service providers, and strangers who populate our world (and, at times, leave an unexpected mark on us).

Today, write a post focusing on one — or more — of the people that have recently entered your life, and tell us how your narratives intersected. It can be your new partner, your newborn child, or the friendly barista whose real story you’d love to learn (or imagine), or any other person you’ve met for the first time in the past year.

Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.

In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations!

– Anton Chekhov, Letter to Alexander Chekhov; May 10, 1886

Describing people — whether real or fictional — in a way that channels their true essence is an invaluable skill for any writer. Through the careful accumulation of details, great authors morph their words into vivid, flesh-and-bones creations in our minds. How can you go about shaping your portrait of a person? Some ideas to explore:

Don’t just list their features. Tell us something about how their physical appearance shapes the way they act and engage with others. For example, see how the author of this moving photo essay, which documents the final weeks of a woman dying of cancer, captures the kernel of the woman’s spirit with a short, masterful statement:

Her eyes told stories that her voice didn’t have the power to articulate and she had a kindness that immediately made me feel like we had been friends for years.

Give us a glimpse of what makes this person unique. We all have our own quirks, mannerisms, and individual gestures, both physical and linguistic. If you’re looking for inspiration, read this blogger’s portrait of her French host family — after reading the first two paragraphs, you already have intimate knowledge of who these people are and what drives them.

Need a helping hand? Head to The Commons.

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      1. I think I figured out what to do. My boyfriend recently met someone who he said was EXACTLY like his former teenage self (who he was when we met), who was in love with my former teenage self (a cold-hearted jerk), so I’m going to kind of quiz him about the guy’s specifics and write mainly about the past, I guess. I wish I was there when they met — I could only imagine what it would be like to come face to face with someone who was exactly like you used to be.

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      2. I don’t think it has to be someone you even spoke with. Sometimes, I form stories around strangers I encounter — like someone reading a book I might be interested in on the bus; or riding the elevator with someone who is listening to music so loud, you start bobbing you head to it too; or someone whose sense of style you liked. Give them a name, a job, a story.

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      3. Thank you, pseudo, I needed that. I’m kind of choking on this story because I’m thinking of someone with whom I haven’t had a lot of dialogue, and I don’t even think I want to. But he’s a character.

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      1. I was going to before I had the idea above. Though, I got another idea from this comment feed — you could write about a new blogger you’ve discovered =] Or maybe someone you already knew, but who has changed. Really, we can adapt each prompt to our own needs/wants.

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      1. I’ve figured out what I’m doing. I also have a bunch of other suggestions for anyone who might be stuck:
        -Personally, I am writing about a guy my boyfriend met and told me about, who he says was exactly like his former self.
        -You can write about someone you have already known for a while, but who has changed so they’re not exactly the same person.
        -Write about one of the wonderful new bloggers you’ve discovered (here or elsewhere) (or a newly discovered author, celebrity, etc.)
        -Write about a child you’re close with, because they most definitely change every year.
        -Write about who you want or plan to be, or how you’ve discovered/changed yourself.
        -Or, go fiction!

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      1. Thanks Cheri. I thought about a fictional character meeting someone new, more like the past six months. Whether their meeting creates the sense of Character Building is what I doubt. I’ve written the plot and have to put on the polishing touches.

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    1. No, there was only one in that three-part-series so far. Day Four was about loss, which had the twist of turning it into a three-parter, BUT they said that those other two prompts would come later, we haven’t gotten them yet. Day Five (the letter) was not connected to Day Four, and this one (Day Six) is not connected to either (unless you want it to be). The second prompt for the series is coming later this week, I think, and the third one sometime after that.

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  1. Wow… Today’s challenge perfectly fit into my Day Six blog post, I did in advance last Saturday… This will be a part of my continuing writing as well, Please go and have a look at:

    http://byswav.com/2014/06/07/young-entrepreneurial-spirit/

    Any comments and feedback are appreciated, from the point of view of story telling or continuing writing, even more than welcome, Have a great week, Swav

    PS Please also include the link to your blog post of today’s challenge or some part of continuing writing, I will check this out.

    I already love the writing story of idleandbored2, which is here… http://idleandboredtwo.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/the-money-letter/ it’s called ‘The Money Letter’ ;)

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  2. Character study. Instructions offering ideas of how to construct a believable character – and examples of some that succeeded. The last paragraph offers solid direction.
    Writers don’t have to always draw from actual person in their lives. Bit and pieces from different people floating the brain around can be rafted together for an entire new creature.
    So don’t whine “not another memory or reflection piece” for an assignment. Right? (insert snorts and giggles here…feel free..it’s fine. Really)

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    1. I agree, I think a lot of people are taking these assignments a bit too literally. I think it’s difficult to realize that we can do whatever we want — prompt, twist, both, neither, our own version, etc. I’ve decided to write about someone I haven’t met, but my boyfriend has, who happens to be the exact version of his former self. (Before I thought of that, I was going to make someone up because I haven’t met anyone this year.)

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    2. Not surprisingly right now mine would have been … ‘The nurse’. The different conversations – or not – during the day, sometimes more at night when they had more time, watching them with other patients, and some shared personal details. But luckily I’m not doing this challenge!

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      1. Oh, and yours would offer some chuckles along with the gritty realism.
        My writing has been attempting to swim in these waters, but posts keep showing up before the “assignment”…a bit of morphing to hammer the square peg into the challenge’s assignment round. We’ll see how it goes. Worked on assigned pieces so long, I really didn’t want anyone telling me what to write about now…but some interesting stuff tucked in around here.

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    3. I wonder whether the word “assignment,” attached to each day’s task is too heavy a psychological hammer? Many people see the word assignment and they fill with dread, remembering school days past and daunting piles of homework. That is the exac

      Thoughts?

      We’re constantly talking about ways to make things clearer for participants, and find ways to make things as comfortable and as welcoming as possible for as many people as possible.

      Sometimes it does take a bit of time for word to spread in that there is no way to fail, there are no requirements other than having fun and maybe meeting a new blogging friend or two.

      Feedback is welcome!

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      1. Your first paragraph is on target. School managed to crush the creativity of many – so any memories stirred up of that is a huge barrier. Many also write by/for/on assignment – and wish to escape the drudgery by blogging.
        You are right, people need to lighten up. Nothing to fear here (but some are so new to WP they don’t realize yet.) It helps when people say, “I’m really new” as it gives you a frame of reference for comments and how to word them encouragingly.
        Will ponder alternative wording…Today’s writing experience/experiment? A new tool to try today? Maybe think along phrases used in writers’ workshops? …or go totally nuts with Firecracker of the day to make your writing pop…..Brain candy?….if enough think about it, something will emerge…
        appreciate all your efforts/ time/anguish…it isn’t easy

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  3. At first I couldn’t think of anyone, but then I remembered a woman I met on my last trip to India. She definitely is a good subject for this piece. But I don’t remember much more than the paragraph I wrote in a letter at the time. Turning it into more than a factual, linear account is going to be an interesting challenge for me.

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    1. That’s a great way of tailoring a challenge prompt to your blog’s focus.
      Also: I need to read some more George Saunders. It’s been a while.

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  4. I just started a new work placement and was in awe of my new mentor and how talented they were at their job. I think I’ll have a write about her.

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  5. Can I write about a character that I haven’t necessarily met in real life?
    And is there like a specific timing period for the challenges or not? Because I’d really like to participate in this one but I have an exam tomorrow so I don’t think I could write anything today.

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    1. You can mold each assignment to meet your own needs and desires. You can do the prompt without the twist, the twist without the prompt, both, neither, or a variation of each that you made up yourself.

      There is no time frame, write/post what you can, when you can. The goal isn’t to get you overwhelmed with posting every day, just writing something at all every day.

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  6. Okay, i am not so sure about this one. The only other interesting person i have met recently is a guy i see everyday at the coffee shop. However, i think he is more interesting in my head than in real life. Is it alright to mix fiction and non-fiction???

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