Using self-portraits…

I feel as if I’m somewhat plodding with the writing course at the moment. It’s Start Writing Fiction and really for beginners to writing stories, whereas I’m not a beginner at all; I’d hoped that doing this course, going back to basics would freshen up my writing and I have very much enjoyed it, so far… So why am I plodding. The course is eight weeks long and we’re now on week seven, but I am doing the last exercise for the previous week.

We’ve spent most of the six weeks looking at characters, how to think of them, where to find inspiration, how to describe them, the different ways of writing about them to bring them to life, and as I mentioned, it’s been useful and interesting. Suddenly we have to create a story about our character, and this is where I’m a little concerned about things… Yes, I can make a plot involving my person (in actual fact, I’ve dithered between three characters) but I feel for new writers there should have been  more support on structure, and location, and plot… none of which has been discussed, nor exercises offered. It’s not just me – other people have commented too.

However, I’m not letting my quibble get in the way, so I’m going attempt the next (and last before the final task) and do the best I can.

Here is the spec:

This (new way of describing a character through the ‘self-portrait method’) involves a direct exposition of a ‘seen’ character accompanied by an indirect exposition of another character (the narrator).
Now try either of these approaches with your ‘new’ character:
– have them either as an explicit first person (‘I’) character narrating themselves
– or have them as a narrator who talks about the other character and in doing so reveals something of themselves.

The character who is narrating is Jakov who was catching the train in a previous story-ette, and the nameless bearded barman from another.

I recognised him... I don’t mean I knew him, I didn’t, I’d never seen him before, but I recognised him as the sort of man I’ve met many times, the sort of man I’ve become.
It was impossible to tell if he was bored with his job, hated his job, was indifferent to his job, but you could tell he was good at it. I’d worked bars, not recently, but at different times in my life and the work had been an anaesthetic. Behind a bar there’s always something to do, wiping the bar, changing the barrels, cleaning the pumps, stocking the shelf and the chill cabinet, always something to keep you busy… and he needed to keep busy as I had, at certain times, in the past.
I was waiting to meet someone, meet a guy I might need to do a job for me. If the guy I was due to meet looked like barman I’d employ him straight away. There was something about his vigilance, the sort of watchfulness a cop has, there was something about the quick, efficient way he moved even though he was a big man, tall, lean. I felt he’d summed me up in a long glance, just as I’d summed him up.
Anyone else looking at him, maybe a woman who thought he was interesting, might wonder why a man so obviously intelligent and strong was working a bar… there can be many reasons. His clothes were neat, long black collarless shirt, not tucked in, sleeves rolled back to just below his elbows (style? Or to conceal a tattoo?) black baggy trousers, tight at the ankle and solid, comfortable boots which would carry him as many miles as he wanted to work.
I looked at my watch; the guy I was meeting was late… unless he had a very good reason, he wasn’t the guy for me. If he had been smart he might have arrived early, inconspicuously and sat somewhere, to watch and wait for me, to size me up. He wasn’t that smart, I’d checked him out, I knew what he looked like… so no, I was really thinking he was not going to be working for me.
“Another, sport?” the barman asked. He had a low deep voice, was polite but not servile, pleasant but not chummy. He called me ‘sport‘, which was odd, reminded me of my old man… my old man, long dead, he’d been an old man when I was born…
“Same again, sport,” I replied. Our eyes met and there was a flicker of recognition in his long, grey gaze. he knew me as I knew him, although we had never met. “Can I get you one?”
I thought for a moment he was going to say something along the lines that he was the one who would get the drinks… but he said he couldn’t drink while working and turned and pulled a pint of Birra Moretti and a Patrón chaser.
I paid, left a tip, took my drinks and sat away from the bar in the window but with my back to the wall so I could see the entrance as well as the steps outside.

© Lois Elsden 2019

her’s a link to the course:

… and here’s a link to my books:



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