Writing Exercise: “Guess Who”
Writer Jean Kwok uses a Character Sketch Table in order to better develop and, subsequently, understand her characters. Whether or not she ends up using all the information in her final creative work, it helps her consider the ways that her characters move (and have moved) in the world. Prior to completing the following exercise, review this document and consider what sorts of information you would need to know about your characters. To begin the exercise, follow the next steps:
- Create two characters who identify as the same gender and use the same pronouns. Note: If you choose to create a transgendered character, please honor the gender and pronouns they have chosen, not those assigned at birth, e.g. Dan, a cisgendered man, and Colin, a trans man or Maria, a cisgendered woman, and Jamila, a trans woman, would be grouped together here.
- Create a quick character sketch in which you identify them by at least: name, age, occupation, interests/hobbies, life goals, and an old embarrassment. If there’s anything else you think your reader should know, you may also include it here. Avoid stereotyping based on race, sexuality, gender, ability, region, culture, religion, appearance, or age toward a complex person that’s more than any one of these identifiers.
- Write a paragraph-long description of a short interaction between only one of your characters and someone else—barista, boss, what-have-you, as long as it’s not your other sketched-out character. The only caveat is that you must only use this character’s pronoun and never identify them by their name or specifically identify their occupation.
- Read your peers’ pieces and try to guess which character appears in their scenes.
Note: This semester, I will share my ENG 2030: Craft of Poetry Writing Exercises as images, since they live all together within a Course Reader document on Google Drive. On the first day of class, my ENG 2030 students completed this “Possibilities” writing exercise as a supplement to their personal introduction. The questions about Szymborska’s poem likewise allow me to get a good calibration of what things they know or don’t know about poetry and poetic craft.
In this exercise inspired by Percival Everett’s novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and nuanced by Odysseus’s encounter with Polyphemus, my Craft of Prose students created a character with a name that causes confusion, a name that is either a negation or a pun, and then crafted a creation myth about their conception and birth in the character’s point of view. Check out Writing Exercise: “The Immaculate Conception of Nohbdy.”
Class: Introduction to Creative Writing (The College of William & Mary)
Purpose: To explore the self as a character and subject
Readings: Chapters 8 (“Creative Nonfiction”) in Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing and “Nobody Knows Your Name” of Eula Biss’s Notes from No Man’s Land
Do you know the story of your name? Its meaning and its history? Do you know why your parents named you what they named you? Are there other famous people with your name? Is your name particularly popular or obscure? What does your last name say about your ancestry, if anything? What are misconceptions about your name? Is your name easily mispronounced or misspelled; if so, give us a narrative about someone getting your name wrong. Are their misconceptions about you based on your name? How would address those who make judgments on a person based on their name? If you don’t know what your name means, speculate and/or invent your own personal meaning for your name based on your experiences, the sounds in your name, etc.. Do you define your name or does your name define you? Write for 10 minutes.