Matilda Butler, SheWrites Guest Editor and Co-Founder Women's Memoirs
Writing Prompt #3, Dorothy Parker and Your Character Descriptions
Put the words "character" and "Dorothy Parker" in the same sentence and someone is likely to point out the redundancy. But today, I'm offering a Dorothy Parker quote as a writing prompt to get your thinking about your character descriptions. All writers, independent of genre, are concerned with characters, whether the character is alive or dead, real or fictional, human or animal. Even in business writing, I am seeing more attention to bringing people into sharp focus with physical descriptions and developmental changes.
Dorothy Parker Speaks and SheWrites Listens
When you describe a character, you establish her (or his) age and other physical characteristics. The writer has to be the lens of the camera or perhaps you might like to think of it as the mirror on the wall that lets the reader see what you see. The physical elements of description are usually considered the easiest place to begin. Yet even there, we can be creative.
To give this some thought, consider the following writing prompt.
SheWrites Writes: Another Dorothy Parker-Inspired Writing Prompt
On the right, you see a Parker quote: "Years are only garments, and you either wear them with style all your life, or else you go dowdy to the grave." Let's take her thought to mean something broader than just age.
Writing Prompt #1. Hold in your mind a character you are writing about -- remember this applies to all genres. For five minutes, write all the physical characteristics you can. Don't worry about sentences. Think of this as a list, although sentence fragments might be useful to you.
Writing Prompt #2. Read your list several times. Now consider how the character "wears" these physical characteristics. Do they seem to weigh the person down? Do they light the person from the inside out? Choose five of the items on your list. For each one write how the character "wears" this physical description. It's not as easy as it seems because it requires you to go deeper into the interplay of physical attributes and internal character.
These two writing prompts will help you dig deeper into your characters. And if you are writing memoir, remember: You're a character too.
You might also like a Dorothy Parker poem and writing prompt that also focus on describing characters. Click here to read this second article. And as a treat, you'll find out about another Matilda and her relationship to Dorothy Parker.
PS Of course, character is so much more than the physical description. Kendra Bonnet and I devote a chapter to character development in our new book: Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep. We share secrets that put writers in total control of their writing process and incorporate the best of social science research to help you write with intense purpose…and have fun in the process.
and the just released:
both co-written with her business partner, Kendra Bonnett. Butler and Bonnett are the co-founders of Women's Memoirs, a website with tips and advice for writers. CLICK HERE for free ebooks for women interested in writing their memoirs as well as free videos based on advice from such well-known authors as: Annie Dillard, Ernest Hemingway, William Zinssser, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Mark Twain, Elizabeth Berg, Elmore Leonard, Rita Mae Brown, Natalie Goldberg, David McCullough, and others.