Portraying your character

Progressing through the Start Writing Fiction course which is meant for beginners, but I’m finding some of the course a little restrictive and does follow a set textbook from Josip Novakovich – which I’m sure is really helpful if you’re just starting out on a new life of writing! However I’m beginning to think I’m too much of an old dog, and I’m struggling to learn new tricks.

The latest task – which is a good one, is to begin to fill out the person we’ve created from a list of characteristics we had to construct in a previous exercise. This isn’t at all how characters usually develop for me, but I’m trying to complete the exercises as well as I can… so here’s more on my so far anonymous man:

Make a summary of what the character is like. – he was a tall man, a big man, a powerful man, however there some hidden sadness which might be glimpsed behind his impassive features, just occasionally a look in his grey eyes which spoke of longing. No-one would dare ask or even engage in a conversation of the sort which might lead to some sort of revelation, he wasn’t a man for a casual chat. Although he had a full gingery brown beard, enough of his rather long face was visible that if he’d had a different personality, all would have been expressed there. If he had a happy twin, that twin would have had a dimple in his cheek, laughter lines and a twinkle in his eye… but this man was a cipher, a blank.

Show them through appearance – his dark clothes were neat and clean, but there was signs of fraying at the cuffs and collar of his long dark coat. It buttoned tightly and gave him the air of a priest or Orthodox monk. His boots, well-worn were clean, and although not polished to a shine had been cared for. When he was working, his coat hanging in the store, he was still all dressed in black; a collarless shirt without pockets, long and worn hanging loose, and baggy black trousers, tapered at the ankle like some secret army issue.

Show them through a habitual or repeated action – whether there were customers or not he was always busy; wiping the bar, cleaning the pumps, collecting glasses, washing glasses, polishing glasses. But always, as he worked his eyes were alert, watching, waiting, maybe expecting… but who he was expecting, a friend or enemy, a lover or brother it was impossible to imagine..

Finally, show them through a speech in a scene – .I’m sorry, he hasn’t got a scene yet… he just works in the bar.. the rest is a mystery!

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