Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Character Sketches--A Writing Exercise

I had a series of flashbacks when I saw the poster above. Growing up in a large apartment building meant I had a passel of neighborhood kids to grow up with. We separated ourselves into age groups. Nothing formal, just drifted to those within a year or two of our own age. When my brothers and I went out to play, it was rare that we found the courtyard empty. It seems kids were always around.

Some stand out more than others now that these many decades have passed but I do remember all of them. With some, it is because I liked and admired them, had fun with them. And for others, it is due to their unpleasant behavior. One or two were just plain mean! Yes, we had bullies in the 40's and 50's, too. 

Think about the kids in your own neighborhood during the years you were growing up. Which ones did your mother encourage you to bring home? And who were the kids your mother told you to avoid? 

Those kids you played childhood games with can benefit you today as a writer. Make a list of the kids you remember most. Write a character sketch for each of them. Start with the basics like physical description. As you do so, I think that more about each one will come back to you. Round out with the child's emotional make-up, their kindness quotient, or their ability to make other kids cry. Add the reasons you liked or disliked each one. What kind of small habits did each one have? Did one always lick his fingers before pitching a baseball? Or was there someone who turned around 3 times before starting a hopscotch game? Highlight whatever was a unique habit. 

By the time you finish writing these character sketches of the kids you grew up with, you'll have a nice folder to draw from when writing your stories. Any one of them could fit into one of your fiction stories or perhaps you can use one or more when writing memoir pieces or other creative nonfiction. 

These short character sketches might even be an inspiration for a story idea. Give it a try. Do one a day for as long as you can, or keep on going if you're motivated to do several at one time. 

Playmates Character Sketch:
  • make a list of the names you remember
  • choose one and write a physical description
  • include any habits unique to this person
  • add their emotional make-up
  • tell what kind of family they came from
  • designate the leaders and followers
  • why you liked or disliked them
  • tell if they were leaders or followers
  • how they dressed
  • voice--loud, soft, annoying
  • crybaby vs tough guy

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