Today’s writing exercise comes from The Art and Craft of Fiction, by Michael Kardos. Please feel free to respond with your thoughts, or your own version of the exercise.
Write a list of 25 things about yourself: physical attributes, hobbies and interests, specific fears, family history, or anything else. Stay away from abstract words. When you are done, circle five facts that, if you were a character in a story, would be most useful in giving the reader a clear sense of that character.
1.) Her clothes were a helter skelter of different styles and sizes. They were the scattered leftovers of slowly coming out of adolescence and into womanhood. Most of them were the ill-fated result of gaining and losing weight. If a stranger were to look inside her closet they may think that it housed the wardrobe of five people, certainly not one.
2.) She did have a fondness of shoes. Not wearing them, necessarily, but certainly buying them. She had three main pairs. One was sparkly and beige. One was sparkly and brown. One was shiny, red, and flat. She rotated them depending on her outfit, and often found herself wishing for a simple pair of black flats.
3.) On her dresser is an oversized, thin plastic plate with a burnt orange flower pattern. That’s where she puts her clunky silver jewelry every night after she takes it off, right before her second shower of the day. Much like her shoes, she rotates out a few simple pieces and keeps the majority of her ‘good’ jewelry in a gallon-sized zip lock baggy in her empty armoire.
4.) She paints her nails, at least once a week, although the polish never stays long. Depending on her mood they can be bright and eye-catching, or neutral and subdued. She remembers the way her mother used to do her nails every night to match her outfit for the next day, always so slow and precise. She thinks of her when she does them, although she is not patient like her mother. Most of the time she musses them before they are dry and wipes away all the evidence with an acetone dipped cotton ball. She cannot stand when they chip. She will secretly chew off the imperfect polish before she is seen with chipped nails.
5.) She looks good in fall colors, and loves red lipstick-but she can never bring herself to wear anything bright on her mouth. It seems to go against her nature. She does not want that attention for herself.
6.) Her skin is oily and it makes her crazy. Primer, blot clothes, obsessive washing and powder; nothing seems to help. So, she resorts to looking ‘dewy.’ All the magazines say that is what is in, anyway.
7.) She has two dogs. Pugs. She got the first when she was lonely. She got the second because she thought the first was lonely. Now there are two. (The second loves the first, but the first was happier when she was the only.) She figures that hindsight is 20/20 and tries to love them both equally, even if she secretly loves the first just a little bit more.
8.) She is one of those creepy people who think of her pets as children, but is grateful that she can lock them up when she’s sick of them. You can’t do that with kids…or at least she knows she shouldn’t. She does not want children any time soon.
9.) Owls appeal to her in strange ways. She’s taken to buying owl things and putting them around her home. She doesn’t know why she likes them, exactly. She knows that when she sees them she gets a little excited. Maybe it’s the big, round eyes. They look like guardians to her, always watching and keeping a constant vigil. She thinks maybe deep down she craves a sense of security.
10.) In her bookcase, in a very old cigar box, she has her late father’s coin box. In it there are all sorts of different and strange coins. Some are valuable, most are probably not. Sometimes she will get them out and look at them. They smell funny, not quite like coins at all. Afterward she always washes her hands thoroughly. The coins always leave a thin residue on her fingers.
11.) She also has a very large ring. It is silver with a big curling dragon. In the middle is a sapphire. It wouldn’t fit most men. Not even if they put two fingers in it. She keeps in next to a picture on her mantel. It, too, was her father’s. He used to wear it on his pinky.
12.) She tries to fill her home with things that make her happy, even if they don’t match. This has resulted in an eclectic yet stylized look. Her couch is made of brown corduroy and canvas with big orange and brown pillows. On the floor is an oversized geometric rug with dark reds and browns and greens. On the wall are three photographs of black and white trees that take up one whole wall. There are bookshelves everywhere; they are full of things, but not all of those things are books.
13.) She’s taken to drinking tea. She used to drink coffee, if you can call the hot diluted, milky, sugar-water she sucked down as “coffee.” She still gets a nonfat latte now and again but finds she prefers Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Sunset with a tablespoon of Splenda to start her engines in the morning.
14.) There is the faintest of dimples underneath her left eye. If you didn’t know it was there, you would miss it. It’s a leftover scar from her childhood. Her father had been outside using the weedwacker and hit a rock. It sped across the yard, through the screen door, and into the living room, where it just narrowly missed blinding her. She thinks of it as a daily reminder that even the people you love the most will accidentally hurt you sometimes and even sitting inside where it’s safe doesn’t guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen.
15.) She travels a lot. Sometimes for work, sometimes for pleasure. She loves New Orleans and frequently chooses it as a destination for long weekends. She has never been to New York, but every year she says that this will be the year she goes. Somehow that never happens. Maybe this year.
16.) She is not from Texas. She is from a small town in Iowa. She misses the place where she grew up, but that place doesn’t exist any more. Even though she sometimes gets homesick, she would rather be where she is and a little uncomfortable then back where she was. There was no opportunity for her there; there was no adventure for her there. This is better, even if it is Texas.
17.) She is obsessed with using J and ❤ when she texts and emails. It makes her a little nuts, but she wants to be sure the recipient understands she is kidding/happy/loving whatever she is sending their way.
18.) Hard headed would be a good term to describe her, both literally and as a statement of her personality. When she was a child she smacked her head on pickle crock; it broke, she did not. In fact she went on her merry way with little to no regard for her concerned mother’s ministrations about the welfare of her skull.
19.) She is not afraid of the dark. She is afraid of the deepest part of her imagination that assures her that of all the unknown things that bump around in the dark, there must be one there with her, lurking in the shadows until she is most vulnerable. Mostly these monsters turn out to be piles of dirty laundry or oddly shaped furniture shadows. She knows that the things she imagines are not real, but she also acknowledges that the fear she feels is very real to her.
20.) The bottoms of her feet used to be ticklish until one day she figured out how to poof, turn that part of her brain off. She wonders why she can’t apply this technique to other parts of her body.
21.) Once every six months or so she gets the most terrible cold sores. They are great painful pulsing bumps that usually take up residence on her lower lip. Since her mouth is smallish to begin with, they are obvious to others. She has built up a tolerance to Abreva. She would go to the doctor to get medication, but she’s heard that if you get medicine for cold sores then your insurance will think you have a sexually transmitted disease. She doesn’t want that “pre-existing condition” to jump up and bite her in the butt later on in life.
22.) Hypothetical questions are a sort of pass time for her. She likes to ask, “What if?” Not just to herself, either. She hounds her boyfriend and her mother with silly scenarios and ridiculous options. One of her favorite ‘starters’ is, “What if I died, would you…?” then give them a multiple choice selection of a.) “remarry a woman that we both currently know, but you’ve never admitted you have feeling for?” or b.) “live alone and desperate as a shell of a person in a perpetual state of depression?” There are no other options. Mostly everyone finds this annoying, but no one has found a good way to shut her up yet. J
23.) She has a tendency to go above and beyond what is required of her without boasting or asking favors. However, when the time comes for recognition or reward, she has a tendency to become resentful if she is overlooked.
24.) She craves the permanence of a real house instead of the townhome she has now. She wants a nice home to inflict Pinterest projects on, with a fenced yard where her dogs can play, and extra bedrooms so her mother can come and live. She is awfully attached to her mother.
25.) Sometimes she goes for long walks around a park in a bad part of town. Twice now she’s been propositioned as a prostitute, even though she dresses modestly. She will listen to music as loud as the volume will allow and lose herself in a steady pace, a catchy beat, and a cloud of thoughts.
Thanks for reading. I hoped you enjoyed it! Drop me a line telling me what you think. Or, you could complete the exercise too and give me the link so I can see how yours came out. J
Have you ever read, “Date a Girl Who Reads” by Rosemarie Urquico? If not, go here. In my humble opinion it is one of the best short pieces you can find out there. I love everything about it. This piece is a response to that, but instead of looking at dating through the lens of girls who read, I did mine on girls who write. I really wanted to imitate the voice and style of the original because it seems to be part of what makes the original so beautiful. Here it is, enjoy!
Date a girl who writes. She won’t be easy to spot. She will spend most of her time in the company of invisible friends. In far away places. Where it is quiet. Her world is nearly impenetrable to anyone who is not already in it. To make her see you, be a hero or be a villain, but especially be unique. Girls who write are always interested in unique characters.
Date her because she will drown your enemies in ink, and exalt your charm on paper. Because she can build a kingdom for both of you, where your widest dreams will come true. Date her because wherever she is nothing is impossible. Date her so you can share some part of her madness, and of her genius.
Do not bring her flowers. Do not bring her chocolates. Do not write bad poetry. Instead, buy her tea, and sit with her while she drinks it. Talk about her stories with her, even if she is reluctant at first. Never laugh, unless you ought to. Ask questions. Drink more tea. Do not interrupt her during a frenzy, even when she writes so quickly her words flow illegibly across the page.
Buy her nice pens and cheap notebooks.
Tell her your favorite stories, ask about hers. Read with her. A lot. When she gets mad, know that it is not at you. When she cries, let her. When she loses her notebook, tear the place a part to find it. (That is her real home.)
When she is rejected the first time, tell her it doesn’t matter. When she is rejected the tenth time, assure her these things take time. When she is rejected the hundredth time, buy her new pens and take her on a date to the bookstore, offer to buy her anything she wants. Take her to the drive-in, get there early and people watch. Take her to a museum; let her read all of the plaques.
Do not let her give up. Not because she has been rejected. Not because she has writer’s block. Not because she fantasizes about being ‘normal.’
Buy her a house with a fireplace and too many bookshelves. Let her fill them with her things, even if they aren’t books. Find her a used desk that faces a window. Make sure there is no Internet connection.
Do not get jealous when she falls in love with her characters, she will come back to you, always.
When she walks around the house looking aimlessly at wallpaper and out windows, don’t fret about it too much. Remember she isn’t seeing what you are. Let her wander. Politely remind her to sleep and eat.
Smile when you notice the ink stained fingers that intertwine with yours. Remember they cannot be treated as mere digits on a hand. Hold them in the most loving manner. Hold them tightly.
Don’t just date a girl who writes. Marry her. Give her children. Make a life with her. Give her your life and watch as she gives life to everything around her.
Never let her go.
Did you like it? I imagine that a lot of people have responded to this work before. If you know of any other good pieces, please let me know. I’d love to read them.
Now, I feel very strongly that bad poetry is no joke. Although, I like to write poetry. I also like to think most of it isn’t that bad. Sometimes the mood just strikes me and words spill out. Sometimes I love it, other times I hate it. There isn’t usually a lot of in-between. However, this is one of the rare exceptions to that rule. “Writing,” is a poem about just that. Too cliche? Perhaps. When I first wrote this it was completely different. I spent a great deal of time perfecting it to get what I felt was just right. This is the result. Enjoy my little ditty. 🙂
Stain black the tip and away with words
Drip off the sharp to the pale canvas below
As ink dries slowly a voice whispers lowly
“Eyes will bleed tears as fingers spill soul.”
Well, what do you think? Be honest! Do you have any short poems like this that you want to share? I’d love to read them 🙂
Writing blogs and I have a history. In fact, if you likened a writing blog to a relationship where I am the husband and the blog is the wife…then I’m pretty much the worst husband ever. I mean, I’m neglectful and controlling with possible abandonment issues. It all starts off well in the beginning. I’ll give her my (domain) name, and she succumbs to my every whim. Then I see something new I like; sometimes a hobby, sometimes a book- and I get distracted. And that’s the end of that. And it’s not just her that suffers. It’s me too. There’s a lot of emotion involved. Not to mention the money and creativity to generate those domain names and clever tag lines. It can be exhausting.
But no more.
Now I’m older. I’ve matured. I’m ready for this. Once I was a wild blogging stallion, free, too untamed to ever settle down. But those days are over. I’m ready for commitment, for dedication. I am going to do things a little differently this time. No more domain names. Not yet, anyway. That’s a big step. I know now that we need to get to know each other a little better first. And so we shall.
Lucky for you our stars have aligned and we’ve come together. Now, we can read and write together. And this time, I’m going to be the best husband ever.
(and the beginning <3)