Workout 1.5: Character Sketch (Again!)

The joint is really hopping here at the Writers’ Block. We’ve spent a lot of time in the workshops over the past week, live-chatting with each other about the craft and mechanics of writing fiction. Our focus has been characterization, and for the first two exercises, we worked on character sketches.

Character sketches are a bit unique in the fiction realm. They’re not typically intended for publication, and are not required to be standalone pieces with a full story arc. They can be vignettes, yes, but the goal is to work with a protagonist on paper—or screen—and find out how they react to certain situations. Often, through a character sketch, we learn things about our own characters that surprise us.

Sketches can also be used in a more academic manner, such as informing a scholar about the basic traits and dispositions of a character in the material they’re reading. This isn’t the type of character sketch we’re doing in the Writers’ Workout, but those certainly have their place in the study of literature.

Last Monday in Character Sketch 1.0, we “pantsed” it. We picked a character, any character, and wrote whatever came to mind. As a group, we didn’t feel satisfied with what we accomplished, so we decided to have a 1.5 session where we worked off a prompt. The prompt, supplied by micro-fiction master @tanglebranch, was having our character walk outside to find their car had been stolen.

It was a success! Today, in our second character sketch workshop, everyone brought their A-game. Attendees were treated to some stand-out pieces of short fiction. Some were funny, some were sobering. But all were fantastic.

Several of our writers will be editing and developing their sketches to publish on the blockchain. We’ll add links as those posts go live. @rhondak offered hers for publication here on the TWB account so anyone who’s interested in joining the workouts can see an example of our character sketches. See how much information you can glean about this character from the vignette below!

I left it right here, against the curb three spaces down from the meter. I know I did. I still have trouble in certain ways after my head hit that tile floor, but I don’t lose things. I don’t lose my keys, much less a whole Subaru.

An unpleasant fog clouds my brain. I feel grimy, violated. I picture someone else sitting behind my steering wheel, racing the engine I pay to keep maintained, pawing through my glove box, and rifling through the letters stuffed above my sun visor.

I fumble in my purse and find my cell phone. “I think somebody stole my cat.”

The emergency dispatcher hesitates. “I’m sorry to hear this, ma’am. How long has it been missing?”

“I left it on Main Street, right here in front of CVS. Came out, and it’s gone. So—fifteen minutes, maybe?”

“You left your cat on Main Street?”

“Yes! And now it’s gone. I think somebody stole it.”

“Did you have it tethered or restrained in any way?”

Tethered? Like a bicycle? As in, a chain hooked around the bumper and padlocked around a light pole? “No, but all the doors were locked.”

“Wait—doors? I’m not sure I understand.”

I squeeze my eyes shut and, from habit, rub the raised knot of bone on the back of my skull. “It’s a silver Subaru.” I sigh deeply. Still can’t remember the word I should have used, but for sure it isn’t cat. “Can you please send an officer?”

What’s Next?

Next workout, 2.0, we’ll move on to a different aspect of characterization. We’re going to deconstruct the “Mary Sue” archetype. Each participant will come with a “Mary Sue” they’ve picked from either literature, comics, or the film industry, and we’ll discuss this character in detail as a group. The following workout, 2.5, we’ll each write a character sketch of our Mary Sue that un-Mary-Sues them. We expect this to be great fun with a lot of laughs. So if you’re interested in joining us, pick your Mary Sue and show up in the TWB Writers’ Workout channel this Friday the 13th (yikes!) at 3:00 p.m. EST, 7:00 p.m. UTC.

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