Character Description: An Exercise from Teachers Write

Joy Preble had a prompt on today’s Teachers Write Quick Write about writing how characters see themselves. I made it a writing assignment for my character Sadie. This is the result:

Sadie frowned. Writing about herself was not high on her list of writing things to do. It wasn’t on the bottom with writing the praises of her certified scientific genius classmate Isaac or reports of disastrous chemistry labs. It was close though, somewhere near summer vacation essays. This was what made college applications so unbearable. In the end, it didn’t matter where writing about herself was on the list because that’s what Mrs. Carlson said they were doing to stretch their characterization abilities. This was creative writing. They were working on novels (or in her case a fictional guide book to supervillainy, not that anyone was supposed to know that). Why did she have to write about herself? Worse yet, she was supposed to picture how people saw her and describe that (without physical description).

She knew the answer to that all too easily. Quiet. Quiet. Quiet. That would be the first thing on anybody’s mind. She looked around the class. Well, first on anybody’s mind other than Meredith, but best friends didn’t count. She caught Isaac looking at her. She ducked her head and scowled down at her paper. Scared rabbit would be the second thing they all thought of. She was a book-toting, homework-finishing, quiet scared rabbit who could be found either in the band room or off in fantasyland.

Grabbing her eraser, she tried to obliterate her painful sarcasm. Anyone who read it would know who she was in a heartbeat. That might have been the point of the exercise, she didn’t want to make it that pathetic. Sadie smoothed out the wrinkles in her paper. If she were truly brave, she’d write an answer that fit with her character, the one narrating her guide. If she sat really still, she could just picture him gloating, the arrogance oozing off the page. You don’t get called Jonnie B. Good for being an angel.You’ll just have to imagine all my accolades. I won’t list them all here. No thirty second biography could hold a candle to all my dastardly deeds, and I’m not going to give you enough information to string together an apb let alone a warrant.

But no, she couldn’t write that. That’d give away her story much, much too soon. All she had was a title, a narcissistic advice-giver, and a few topics. Nobody was going to know her project. Nobody. For as long as she could help it. Please don’t let today be the day peer edits started. She had old writing with her just in case.
Sadie jumped when she heard the first person get up to turn in his paper. She glanced sideways. Chance. She should have known. He was always in a rush whenever they had to handwrite, like he thought his pencil would spontaneously combust. She adjusted her glasses and squinted at the redhead’s paper. It was covered in sketches with no words at all.

“This is a writing class, Mateer, not art,” Isaac said loudly.

Sadie didn’t know how he did it, but Chance grinned. “Art is description and a picture’s worth a thousand words. That right there is two thousand words.”

“An apt use of cliché,” Mrs. Carlson said, trying hard not to smile. “You missed a key element though, Mr. Mateer.”

“I was flat out of red,” he said. “Too many revolutions in social studies today.”

“We were supposed to guess who your description matched. Between your signature style and Mr. Watts’s commentary, there will be no room for guessing.”

Chance shrugged. “I can make more while we wait for everyone else.”

“Go try a few words,” Mrs. Carlson said. Sadie wondered why her teacher wasn’t coming down more on Chance. Mrs. Carlson was relaxed, her classes entertaining, but someone avoiding writing so blatantly shouldn’t have made her smile. It definitely shouldn’t make her sound gentle, for lack of a better word.

“Can they be captions?” Chance asked. Snickers broke out around the room. Sadie forced herself to ignore the end of the little episode by glaring at her blank sheet of paper.

She wrote a word, a single word, in the middle of it. Writer.

Satisfied, she drew a circle around it and started creating a web of traits. If sentences wouldn’t come, this would have to do.

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