I’ve started a creative writing class. Last week we were asked to write a short piece on a profound moment in our life. Here’s the link if you missed out – A Slice of Life. This week we were asked to write a character description of someone we know well. We were told not to give a ‘description list’ where the character’s physical attributes were simply listed. Our task was to try to use some or all the five senses (taste, smell, touch, hearing, sight) to help bring alive the character to the reader. The examples given to us for reading contained lots of similes, metaphors, actions and physical details for personality.
Interestingly, I discovered that I cannot write a good character description, and I tend to delve into storytelling using scenes and dialogue. My descriptions were unnecessarily wordy without the ability to give a clear vision of the portrayed character.
In my first attempt, I tried to describe a broken woman, but instead I wrote a short story. I used a different tack with my second to seventh attempts by using stereotypes, hoping that by doing this I could narrow my focus and not waffle. I wrote bullet points of stereotypical descriptions using google search and tried linking the sentences. I ended up with vague descriptions and a scene. It was frustrating not being able to understand my barriers. It felt a lot like having writer’s block. After much discussion with my significant other, we discerned that because I don’t like the idea of stereotypes and generalisations, I couldn’t draw inspiration from this method. I simply don’t see people in that way!
In the end, I wrote bullet points of short phrases to describe someone I knew well from my childhood. Being able to visualise the person in my mind’s eye helped. I should have done that in the first place as instructed by the teacher! I think the final product was the best character description from the lot. What do you think?
My first attempt:
Wiping the condensation from the mirror with her freshly manicured hand, she stepped back and stared at the woman before her. No longer was she the dependent, dutiful housewife at the beck and call of a demanding and abusive man. She had thrown that dead weight from her hunched shoulders, loosened the stranglehold, and scrubbed that disease from her body and soul. She had tucked the once cowering woman and her fragmented thoughts into the dark realms of her mind, forever to be left behind.
She pinched her cheeks in an effort to brighten her sallow complexion. She cursed under her breath, as she applied the foundation to cover the dark circles that had formed under her eyes from the sleepless nights. Carefully, with an unpracticed hand, she used her new makeup to contour her eyes and cheeks, smiling triumphantly at her efforts. It was like riding a bike.
Letting the fluffy pink towel drop to the floor, she admired her perky and fulsome breasts, the result of a ten thousand dollar loan from her brother and the aftermath from a bitter divorce. It would take her years to pay the amount, but it was worth every penny in rebuilding the confidence that was systematically stripped from her over the years.
Who was she now? How would she introduce herself? What would this man see? A thirty-year-old woman with three children under five, jobless, penniless, divorcee and in a world of hurt? Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined these turns of events. She chastised herself for allowing morose thoughts to enter her mind. It would do her no good to dwell.
Tonight, she could be anyone. Tonight, she would be the strong, fun-loving, wild at heart woman she wanted desperately to be. Tonight, she would rebuild her life.
She pulled back her shoulders and took a deep fortifying breath. She had a date to meet and a new persona to slip on. She clutched the bright rouge lipstick and with a shaky hand smeared the lipstick on her plumped lips.
She slipped into the black tube dress, the one she had pulled out from deep within her closest, the one she had worn back in the days before she met HIM. She silently thanked the heavens that it still fit like a glove, even after housing and vacating three beautiful children. Pushing up her cleavage and smoothing down her flat-ironed hair, she grabbed her stilettos and clutch, and headed out.
She stopped momentarily at her children’s doors, peering in to see if they were asleep. Upon seeing her youngest, twelve-month-old baby in his cot, she paused, doubting her decision to leave, but then her vision of HIM with HER solidifies her resolve.
Shaking off the mother’s guilt, she raised her head high and strutted her new and improved version towards the inevitable.
Her white caterpillars connected in a frown as her beady black eyes took in the rowdy grandchildren at her door. Sinking further into her corner chair, she pulled the woollen blanket towards her droopy jowls, keeping her thin and wiry frame warm from the accompanying blast of the icy chill. The coldness crept into her osteoporotic bones and made her dentures rattle in her mouth as she shivered. She pushed her thick rimmed glasses back on her upturned nose with a skeletal finger. Clang! Screech! The sudden noise of a slammed door startled her sensitive state. A heavy blanket is placed on her, and the warmth of it envelops and entices her weary body and anxious mind for a sleep.
His friends called him ‘Love Flower’ but his parents named him Jeremy. His home was a large commune off the grid, where like-minded people fed off the land and gave back to Mother Nature. His place of work was wherever his bare feet would carry him. His work station was any surface his scrappy frayed jeans would settle upon. His craft involved the strum of an acoustic guitar. He relied upon the good graces of passing people to throw unwanted coins into his weather-worn guitar case, thereby funding his weed smoking habit. If he was lucky, an occasional person would stop to listen, unfazed by his unkempt appearance. His lean body would bounce energetically with the beat. His head of unwashed blonde dreadlocks would sway from side to side, as his grubby fingernails strummed the guitar strings. Sometimes people walking past would curl their lips in disgust at the faded OP Shop tied-dyed shirt, his overgrown beard that brushed his chest, and at the lingering smell of unwashed body odour that was emitted from his pores as he worked up a sweat. He didn’t notice or care. He was in his element, young and carefree, unburdened by societal expectations, rejecting conventional values, and pursuing a life of enlightenment.
Her wispy white hair would sometimes peek out from under her woollen beanie as she sat in her favourite corner chair. With a red woollen blanket draped over her legs, her beady black eyes would watch her visitors like the Big Bad Wolf eyeing its prey. She wore a fearsome mask: a side glance, the slight tilt of her chin, and a furrowed brow. It was a stony expression that invited no conversation unless she was inclined to grace her company with small talk. She was the matriarch, domineering and proud, sitting on her throne ready to cast her judgements. Her progeny would come bearing gifts and seeking validation. She would award a smile for those that brought news of success and a scowl for those she thought unworthy. Like chess pieces, she would maneuver them, favouring her rooks and bishops, and carelessly discarding her pawns. Little did she realise that her game, in the end, there would be no winners as they all fall.
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