Describing a character

As part of an eight week Start writing fiction course, that I embarked on at the end of April but am struggling to finish, I have been tasked with portraying a character in different ways. As the course has progressed I have discovered that I do not like anyone telling me how I should be writing. However, I am not one to give up without trying so will attempt to complete this task. This is not the way to get my creativity flowing.

The task is: “Writing in the third person (using ‘he’ or ‘she’), try each of the four different ways outlined below, either in one or two continuous pages, or in four separate paragraphs:”

Make a summary of what the character is like.

Cassie had an independent spirit that had sometimes got her into trouble. It was the trouble that bothered her parents. They wanted her to conform, to be a good girl, to have their friends tell them what a lovely daughter they had. Cassie had no interest in what others thought of her, what mattered to Cassie was that she succeeded. When she took up martial arts she focused on getting her black belt as quickly as possible, not to please her instructors but to be the best in her class. When she sat her school exams it was a means to an end, a way to get into the best university in the country. She did what was necessary to get to where she wanted to go. What made her mad was when she saw her peers circumvent the system because of who they knew. Cassie accepted that she would have to work hard, and deeply resented that others could reap rewards without jumping through so many hoops. The system sucked, but Cassie was not going to allow that to stop her.

Show them through appearance.

Cassie smiled with her mouth but not her eyes. She shook Mr Wilson’s hand firmly, spoke clearly, held back her repulsion at the clamminess of the fat palm she had been required to grasp. Flicking her long, dark hair back over her shoulder she sat down primly on the chair indicated, and made eye contact with the other members of the interview panel. Back straight, knees together, ankles tucked in, she waited for them to fire their opening salvo. The alien feel of her neat skirt and blouse acted as armour, a reminder not to relax her guard. The compliments she had received on her slim, neat appearance added to her resentment. It was a ridiculous, impractical outfit. She knew though that if she got the job she would be required to don costumes, act a part. She reminded herself that this was all she was doing today, portraying a prim and eager little miss. She noticed that the interviewer on the left glanced at her breasts, accentuated by the cut of the flimsy top. She hoped that she would one day find an opportunity to punish him for such lechery.

Show them through a habitual or repeated action.

Mark ordered his drink and looked around the crowded bar. It didn’t take him long to spot her, leaning back against the wall, bottle of beer in hand. She had pulled a leather jacket on over her interview clothes, swapped the heeled shoes for docs. He knew that she would be scanning the crowd, relaxing now that she thought she was alone. Her hair was still loose and she flicked it idly back over her shoulder, dropping her guard as she drank deeply. Her knee length skirt had been pulled up for ease of movement, reminding him of their school days and her hatred of the uniform code. The demeanour was the same, daring anyone to approach. She spotted him as soon as he started to move towards her, straightening her stance, flicking her hair back, making eye contact to determine his intentions. Mark smiled, thinking she did not recognise him. He was wrong about this as about many things.

Finally, show them through a speech in a scene.

‘Hey Cassie, great to see you, remember me?’

‘Yes Mark, hi. Uh, do you live around here?’

‘Nope, just called in on business, to do with you actually. Seems they wanted someone to verify your background and found me on their databases. You will be pleased to hear that you checked out and they are offering you the job. Details will be sent to a secure account that you can access through this phone. Don’t open it until you are home.’

‘Don’t patronise me Mark, I know their system. So, how long have you worked for them?’

‘A couple of years. You are going to have to soften up a bit you know. The old boys expect their girlies to pander to their need to feel virile and attractive. They all think they are James Bond.’

‘They get me as I am, as do you. Thanks for letting me know about the job. Maybe I’ll see you around.’

‘Hey, don’t you want to have a drink to celebrate? Maybe I could fill you in a bit on protocol, warn you about a few names to avoid. Knowledge is power and all that.’

‘Mark, I’m a quick learner and I’ll do things my way. If you play a system then I don’t think you’ll want to be associated with me. Also, if you actually knew anything about me then you would know that I don’t socialise. So, I am going to go now. Don’t follow me. Goodnight.’

Now try this approach with your ‘new’ character: have them as a narrator who talks about the other character and in doing so reveals something of themselves (250 words or so). This time you should also make your character desire something.

Mark is a pillock, and he must be lying. How can he have worked there for a couple of years when he is the same age as me? His old man probably got him in over the summer, pushing bits of paper around. Now he’s trying to make himself sound so superior. Pillock.

Trouble is he may be right. If I’m going to work for the government I may have to cosy up to some unsavoury characters. The recruiters worry  about how we would deal with the enemy, forgetting that the big issues can come from our so called allies. I may have to be nice to them. God how I hate having to be nice to brown tongued, arrogant misogynists.

I’ll be fine out in the field, so long as the team treat me as a human and not a woman. I can prove myself to them, that I can be useful. If they try to allocate me a desk I’ll resign. Mark would probably love a desk. Shit, maybe he has one. Oh god, have I just blown my chance to get where I want to go for the price of a drink with an idiot?


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