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Exercise: Who am I?

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Florence Cardinal
Posted on: Sun, 14 Oct 2001
Reposted on: Sat, 5 Oct 2003
Reposted on: Sun, 4 Jul 2004


How do you get a description of your viewpoint character to your readers? How do you describe a person when you are writing as that person? This is even more difficult when you're writing in first person. Seeing your reflection in a mirror or store window (or even a pool of water) is overdone and frowned upon by many editors and publishers. So - how can you have your readers "see" this person?

EXAMPLE #1: Marla took extra care in arranging her hair for her date with Ricardo. She remembered how, in the past, he had always said he loved the way she wove her thick ebony hair into a braided coil around her head. He said it suited her heart-shaped face and dark brown eyes.

EXAMPLE #2: Peter had counted so much on winning this race. Of course, his riding now was completely out of the question. The broken leg had come at the worst possible moment. Well, they would still win! She wrapped the strips of sheet tightly around her breasts, giving thanks for once that she wasn't buxom like her friend Alice. She slipped into Peter's jockey shirt and tucked it into the pants. She considered tucking her hair beneath her cap, but it was so close to the silvery blond shade and collar length of Peter's locks that she decided to leave it.

For this exercise,in 300 words or less, write a few paragraphs "showing" the viewpoint character while in that character's point of view.

Florence Cardinal's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 21 Oct 2001

Who Am I? An interesting question, and, as is usual with our exercises, it elicited a wealth of interesting submissions. The majority did well with the exercise. The main problem I found was being in the character's point of view, but describing the character in words that someone wouldn't normally use when speaking of him or herself.

For instance: The old brown suit bagged in the seat. Without a mirror would your character know this? OR: She was lovely with a heart shaped face and eyes the blue of a mountain lake. Now this might be fine, flowery as it is, from someone else's viewpoint, or if using omniscient viewpoint, but if you're in the character's POV, or, even worse, first person: "I was lovely with my heart-shaped face and my eyes that were the blue of a mountain lake" it sounds vain, to say the least. I think I'd toss this book back on the shelf and find something a little more plausible.

The submissions, however pointed out numerous ways to describe our viewpoint character without benefit of the looking glass:

1. Through someone else's remarks as he or she looks at the character. 2. Personal observation, perhaps as the person gets dressed, noticing how the clothing fits. 3. Retrospection - comparing how s/he looks now to past remembrances. 4. Looking at photographs 5. Comparing himself or herself to someone else.

And there may have been more ways or variations on the ones I've mentioned. So, if not always easy, it is definitely possible. I hope others have gleaned as much from this exercise as I have. This has always been a problem for me.


Florence Cardinal's wrap-up
Posted on: October 14, 2003

This appears to have been a difficult exercise for some of you. Perhaps you needed better direction and we'll see what we can do about supplying that, should we run this exercise again.

Several people described the personalities of their character when what we were looking for was the physical appearance. Others ended up telling instead of showing. She had hair the color of sunlight is a great sentence. Very descriptive. But if it's the viewpoint character you're describing from her own point of view - well, I can't imagine anyone describing their own hair this way. Eye color was another big problem. Can you see your own eyes without using a mirror? No, but your child can look at you and tell you how pretty your blue eyes are.

I know it's not easy to describe your viewpoint character while in her POV. It takes some thought and a bit of ingenuity. Just remember to only describe what she can actually see, and do it using words she might use herself. No hair the color of sunshine. Or have someone else compliment the character on a facial feature, or make fun of something, like teasing about the size of someone's nose.

Florence Cardinal

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