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Exercise: Details, Details

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: Patricia Johnson
Posted on: November 11, 2001
Reposted on: December 7, 2003

This exercise looks at character development - how to make a character come alive through the use of significant details.

(For help with this exercise, you can check out the character chart at http://www.eclectics.com/articles/character.html )

The first two parts of the exercise are for your own benefit. Start by listing three to five traits of a character. For example, is your character proud, noble, greedy, ambitious, shy, extroverted, insecure? Make sure to include at least one positive and one negative trait.

Next, list 15 or so character details that go along with one or more of those traits - this can be a behavior, mannerism, or whatever. For example, a greedy character would carefully count the change given by the cashier, a trusting character wouldn't. (Try to use more than one sense - would there be something peculiar about the character's voice and diction, for example? Would your character be more likely to smell of cologne or sweat?)

From that list of details, select the 5 (or so) most significant. Use those to write a scene of 250 to 400 words. Do *not* use the words you came up with in your list of traits - don't *tell* us your character is proud or shy or whatever, *show* us!

When critiquing this story, say what impression you got of the character, listing the traits you imagined. (It's not necessarily a problem if the critics' traits don't line up with the author's - it might be a sign of the character evolving during the process. On the other hand, it might mean the wrong details were presented...)

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: December 15, 2003

The character details exercise's most successful submissions created easily identifiable characters. This was accomplished by writing in-depth details from a variety of methods. The details allowed the reader to determine the age, setting, empathy or lack of empathy between characters. Often dialogue and action were used, which brought out characteristics by showing instead of telling. Readers drew their own conclusions without too much explanation. The most successful stories left the readers curious, wanting to know more about the characters.

Successful submissions used a mix of physical and emotional characteristics. Good interaction between the different characters was employed. Succinct word choices and sentences allowed development in the short, challenging word count. Describing certain characteristics metaphorically was used as a method in a few stories.

Some of the main weaknesses to work out for the next time include:

Building dimensional characters; not listing the characteristics, but instead using devices to develop them inside the story; careful attention to thoughts of characters and POVs; keeping the narration believable and clear to the story's meaning; using specifics instead of broad ethereal details; consistency of characteristics to each character (individual believability); and lastly, convincing interaction between characters.

The exercise enabled critiquers to freely interpret each character. The critiquers gave good feedback as to their impressions and imaginings of the characters.

Thanks for your participation in the exercise. Hopefully you gained a richer knowledge of character development to carry into your writing.

Patricia L. Johnson

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.