Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Writing Challenges » 1st Person Characterisation Challenge--Discussion

   
Author Topic: 1st Person Characterisation Challenge--Discussion
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Welcome to the second hardest challenge you're likely to face: describing who and what a character is, and what they look like, in their first person POV. Of course, I would not expect all this to happen in 13 lines of prose, but at least one aspect can be successfully hinted at within that constraint.

So the challenge is this: Create a character and then describe what they look like physically from within that character's own first person POV. Alternatively, you may wish to try and describe who they are (job, public personality, family life, etc.) or what they are (serial killer, thief, tortured soul, etc.) within that same 13 line limitation.

If you want to try and cover multiple areas within 13 lines, feel free; it is possible, just very hard. Or you may wish to post three separate 13 line submissions with each one addressing a different aspect. And, if you want to be really daring, use 39 lines to fully describe the character and then arbitrarily cut it into three equal sections. Opportunities and workarounds abound for the keen intellect.

Anyone can vote; no requirement that you submit an entry, but I'd hope you would. People can choose their top 3 with 1st choice getting 3 points, 2nd choice 2 points, and 3rd choice 1 point. There will also be a bonus point for best opening line--not sentence but line of text. If you're going to submit a 1st person POV story you'd better stand out immediately.

Timeline:

This is not some simple challenge where you can make up the introduction to a story situation 'on the spot'. In order to describe your character from within I advise you to spend some quality time in creating them in some detail--along with the setting and circumstance they find themselves in at the moment of description.

So, I would think one week to create a character and situation and two weeks to write your submission(s) would be fair enough, but if you want extra time, everything is negotiable. Once everyone is satisfied they've had enough time the voting will commence.

This thread will be for questions and discussions, and perhaps asking for help, and there will be another thread for submissions and voting.

Just in closing, there is nothing easy about this challenge; which is why everyone should try it. In writing, as in so many other things, we learn by doing, not reading about it or watching what others do. So jump in, sink or swim, and have some fun learning.

Phil.

(Go on, kick my butt. I know you want to.)

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Disgruntled Peony
Member
Member # 10416

 - posted      Profile for Disgruntled Peony   Email Disgruntled Peony         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
In the course of one morning I went from having only the vaguest notion of what I wanted to do to having basic concepts for both a protagonist and antagonist, as well as the conflict between the two. Will definitely be entering.
Posts: 742 | Registered: May 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The prompt seems to emphasize character sketch instead of drama or anecdote or vignette. Not that all four cannot be part of fragments -- emphasis.

One method to accomplish all the above is Jerome Stern's "Specimen" shape. A narrator reports about another individual or thing, and in so doing reveals as much or more about the self as about the subject.

For drama, one distinction stands out from sketch, anecdote, and vignette; that is, a contention, a clash, either or both internal and external to a viewpoint character. For first person, that is a method to develop character basic nature and behavior. Physical appearance, too, without an actual reflection device: mirror, still water surface, scrying glass, pansieve, etc.

For example, a first-person thought that characterizes through self-appearance perception and specimen and contention: What petty gall to reject my handiwork. She commissioned the baskets and now won't pay. Nothing much wrong to fuss about. Her refusal masked her jealousy of my long chestnut hair and supple curves -- and Don Perdo's single affections for me. My perceptive cobalt blue eyes she especially envied. The plain pitiful frumpy girl.

Posts: 5157 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Disgruntled Peony
Member
Member # 10416

 - posted      Profile for Disgruntled Peony   Email Disgruntled Peony         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Excellent observations, all. I just got excited because rather than simply coming up with an idea for a story opening with nothing to back it up, I got the beginnings of an idea for a full-fledged story. There's still a long way to go before I'm ready to write, but I have a direction and that's enough for me to be happy at the moment.
Posts: 742 | Registered: May 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Sorry ,extrinsic, I thought I had made it clear that any 'description' had to be made in the viewpoint character's own, personal POV, not have the character be described by another viewpoint narrator as Watson does in Sherlock Holmes.

Phil.

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Specimen type stories are both portraits of other viewpoint characters and of the self, de se, the self emphasized more so though, more Hunger Games and Twilight than Sherlock Holmes or "A Rose for Emily."
Posts: 5157 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by IRWhite:
By the way, I think extrinsic does a good job with his example. Doesn't necessarily evoke much sympathy for the viewpoint character, though. That's the problem with self-description in 1st person POV. The characters either come out as full of themselves, or as self-depricating.

I guess a neutral approach would be if you start with the POV character changing their appearance and describing the change. Or if their appearance is part of the inciting incident. (I guess those two could be one and the same... oh, well)

Good challenge.

That the cue of a "full of themselves" implication comes through for that sample delights me. That's the intent and unreliable narration in general. The character boasts how attractive she believes she is and how plain her contender is. She is a classic alazon archetype. Vanity in the name of pride vice there, a moral human condition and one ripe for a subtext, so to speak, an intangible action backdrop to a tangible action -- a quarrel about payment for a commissioned work.

For sympathy-empathy development, perhaps a noble, selfless act beforehand and then the petty vanity is a reaction to, say betrayal of the trust and passable.

Self-deprecation, to me, is self-disparagement intended to elicit the opposite from others -- praise, and itself a vanity-pride vice. Sincere and genuine self-debasement is self-effacement, humble admission of the self's humility and vices and follies. For the sample, that would be an outcome, self-realization of the self's vanity folly, to coincide with a mutual satisfaction of the compensation squabble.

For entertaining prose, though, a more dramatic overall contention is needed so that the moral character is misdirected, to be less obviously preachy. Like an external event, setting, or character contention of a higher antagonal magnitude.

Event, for example, contest for a goal only one can attain, say, nemeses for a blue ribbon prize. The commission ordered by the client to distract the basket maker from contest preparation. The prize more than a token award, too, say invitation to a regional contest final and all expenses paid.

Setting, for example, say a dystopia where goods containers must be handmade and traded for when an individual in need of those cannot make them and what's to be carried in baskets of more moment than the baskets. Food, grain distributed only to persons who have tight containers maybe.

Character, for example, both want to impress someone who can enhance their lives, and both attempt to with what they do with baskets.

For fantasy, magical properties for the baskets -- one makes baskets, the other puts spells on them.

For science fiction, I don't know, physical science and technology, hard science fiction, baskets that are superior to machine made containers for a particular want and use. Say, to contain and carry goods that destroy glass, plastic, pottery, and metal. Fluoride acids and alkalies. Re-unobtainadamantium. The dystopia example above is a social or soft science fiction custom.

For horror, many situations are possible from what's given, baskets that trap their abusers or targets into wicker grave wraps, for instance.

For romance, the love interest contest is patent.

For thriller, perhaps the baskets are a drop box for message exchange, the basket weave patterns a code or code key.

For mystery, the payment squabble leads to a party framed for a crime, murder maybe.

For western, a frontier woman, basket making an independent livelihood and the hardships of such a life, like that single women are oppression targets for all and sundry.

For other, of a literary-fiction caliber and also possibly crossover of one or more of the above genres, from a basket payment squabble to a moral truth discovery about a personal human condition.

[ February 01, 2016, 08:43 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

Posts: 5157 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
extrinsic, your example of a specimen type story I would characterise as only slightly less artless than:

I blundered about, a big man in a small room. My golden locks, falling around my shoulders and into my eyes, obscured her face from me . . .

Both are tell, pure and simple. If I were seriously writing in 1st person I would try to reveal character through the natural unfolding of the story. I don't mean the assumption made by most novice writers that simply telling the story in 1st person reveals the character, I mean setting out to deliberately reveal character traits through mannerism, internal dialogue and characters in conflict.

For example: A fat man walks differently than a thin man, he also sits more carefully and, if I were to suggest that my character needs to loosen his belt so he can untie his shoes, I might surmise that he was fat. If I were to write the following, what would you infer?

I took the proffered chair and sat, knees together, ankles crossed, and my left palm cradling my right hand in my lap. Just like mom taught me thirty years ago.

Phil.

[ February 02, 2016, 08:07 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I would infer from that passage that the man is fastidious to a capricious degree about his appearance. He's a type whose clothes wear him: vanity is thy name.

While my sample is only one degree removed from a mirror self-reflection description, and yours one degree more, too, I feel, they are a consequence of outside looking into a box, like a television screen, and, more critically, because the characters do not dramatically interact with other characters in the now moment -- an important and challenging to arrange distinction.

Reflexive reflections are invariably from the isolated place of interior-life discourse, even when among other characters, and slow, stall, or stop story movement. And they are tension reliefs, the satisfaction part, if only partly, of a preparation (incitement), suspension (delayed reaction), and satisfaction sequence (reaction). They are parts of scenes, though, that, when necessary, show through tell or outright show interior life reactions to external stimuli. Probably more artful, for many readers and less of a challenge anyway, to show through external reaction as much as possible, though.

My basket weaver, for example, could smash a basket to show anger and self-disappointment; and her speech instead of thought could describe her tormentor and herself by proud self-comparison and contrast. But thought closes distance when from inside the box looking out.

[ February 02, 2016, 02:37 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

Posts: 5157 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Disgruntled Peony
Member
Member # 10416

 - posted      Profile for Disgruntled Peony   Email Disgruntled Peony         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The way Phil's character is sitting combined with the manner of describing it definitely says 'female' to me, if for no other reason than my mother used to try and get me to do the same thing. It's a very effeminate manner of sitting (men tend to spread their legs to give the family jewels some room, but when a lady does that it's considered rude).

To me, one viable solution to describing a character in the way Phil requested definitely involves the viewpoint character's impressions of/interactions with another character. That's not for every story, but for the one I have in mind it works. At the moment, I'm trying to decide which character's viewpoint to write from.

Another theoretically viable format for first person, though one I don't think would work hugely well for this contest because it's more suited to novels than short stories, is journal entry format.

Posts: 742 | Registered: May 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
DP, it takes a lady to recognise a lady. I'm just wondering what sort of 'men' extrinsic and IRWhite observe as they wander through life. The point of those two sentences was to indicate that the character was female and give an approximate age that will be better defined later.

Observation of human mannerisms and interactions is an essential pastime for any writer. Watch what people do and listen to what they say.

Phil.

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
pdblake
Member
Member # 9218

 - posted      Profile for pdblake   Email pdblake         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Ok, I don't normally do 1st person but I'll have a stab at it.
Posts: 776 | Registered: Aug 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
DP, it takes a lady to recognise a lady. I'm just wondering what sort of 'men' extrinsic and IRWhite observe as they wander through life. The point of those two sentences was to indicate that the character was female and give an approximate age that will be better defined later.

Observation of human mannerisms and interactions is an essential pastime for any writer. Watch what people do and listen to what they say.

Phil.

The sample of note is masculine language: firm, assertive, and bald of general feminine language markers: one marker, actually, very formal language and behavior -- which is also a cultural marker that somewhat distinguishes, say, eastern culture from western culture; eastern, more at-first formality exhibited between strangers; western, immediate masculine informality, competitive jest and posturing between male strangers.

Also, by default of the prior paragraph references a man as a setup and no transition to introduce another character. The male character is of large girth, perhaps a glutton, though metabolism could cause a heavyset build, and a feminine behavior emphasis nature possible and not uncommon for heavyset male persons.

Cotillion courses in private grade school and my family's manners instructors, females more than males, emphasized the body postures for all children as are depicted in the sample. Out on the recess playground, in the locker room and the gym, ball courts and fields, etc., bars and social events, at other male dominant venues, and of older ages males are another matter -- masculine contention rituals. Females instruct manners in my culture groups, mostly somewhat polite behaviors; males show masculine behaviors and manners rituals without much instruction to speak of, and less polite in general, except how men shake hands with other men and with women. Those are taught directly and by males in my culture groups.

Casting sly allusions about a person's social orientations is a decidedly masculine behavior -- meant in jest though no less of a male contention nature. What kind of males and females I observe are all kinds, of varied ages and feminine and masculine emphases and variable cultures and circumstances.

Posts: 5157 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tesknota
Member
Member # 10041

 - posted      Profile for tesknota   Email tesknota         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Welcome to the second hardest challenge you're likely to face: describing who and what a character is, and what they look like, in their first person POV.

Am I the only one who's wondering what the hardest challenge is?
Posts: 239 | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by IRWhite:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
The sample of note is masculine language: firm, assertive, and bald of general feminine language markers: one marker, actually, very formal language and behavior -- which is also a cultural marker that somewhat distinguishes, say, eastern culture from western culture; eastern, more at-first formality exhibited between strangers; western, immediate masculine informality, competitive jest and posturing between male strangers.

extrinsic, I believe part of your confusion comes from the assumption Phil's two paragraphs were supposed to be connected. I believe he was giving two separate examples.

You have a point that there are certain markers that indicate gender/sex, culture, age, etc.

On the other hand, we're a science fiction writing group. For all we know, the character in the second example might have been a man in a society where men are instructed by their mothers to use submissive sitting postures in situations where they need to be "proper." Or it might have been a historical setting in which a woman with a more assertive (in traditional western norm, masculine) voice is in conflict with social expectation as taught to her by her mother.

Either way, to expect the opening sentence will carry the bulk of a character's identity isn't necessarily realistic. It does offer a chance to play on the reader's expectations and assumptions, though. =)

I'm under-informed by the sample, not confused. The intent as stated subsequently is a prim female, middle age character, though could be any of a number of lifestyle orientations and either biological sex. Another unequivocal at least implication of orientation and sex is warranted so readers are timely in the know, if those are relevant. The age is clearly enough implied: "mom taught me thirty years ago."
Posts: 5157 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
My apologies IRWHite if I implied that you are 'unrefined' in any way. And yes, I made an unwarranted assumption. Sorry.

tesknota, the hardest thing to do in first person is create suspense, surprise and tension.

Phil

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
axeminister
Member
Member # 8991

 - posted      Profile for axeminister   Email axeminister         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Irina sighting!

(Sorry, couldn't help myself. It's been a while.)

Hope you are well!

Axe

Posts: 1543 | Registered: Jan 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
axeminister
Member
Member # 8991

 - posted      Profile for axeminister   Email axeminister         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Edited.

Axe

[ February 04, 2016, 04:47 PM: Message edited by: axeminister ]

Posts: 1543 | Registered: Jan 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Disgruntled Peony
Member
Member # 10416

 - posted      Profile for Disgruntled Peony   Email Disgruntled Peony         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Got so excited to post my entry last night I forgot to put in my title. XD Fixed.
Posts: 742 | Registered: May 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, two weeks have gone by leaving just one to get (all) your entries in. The closing date will be midnight on Thursday, February 18, 2016 UTC--Coordinated Universal Time.

To know what time it is in UTC, go here

I was actually seriously considering not putting up an entry but, well, you know, I came up with a character and setting so I just might make one up.

Phil.

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Disgruntled Peony
Member
Member # 10416

 - posted      Profile for Disgruntled Peony   Email Disgruntled Peony         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
It would be a good exercise if nothing else, Phil.

46 hours left according to UTC, people! I'm trying for a third entry but I'm having difficulty with it so we shall see how things progress.

Posts: 742 | Registered: May 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, I guess the thrower-outerer of a challenge should a least participate. So, for your amusement, a half formed, unscripted, unthought-out fragment of a story that does not exist. Yet. But if I were to write it, it would not be in first person POV.

Phil.

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, the deadline has been passed but I'll leave submissions open until I wake up tomorrow morning. Then, on with the crits and voting.

Phil.

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Following a sumptuous breakfast of coffee and toast with marmalade I hereby announce the closure for accepting entries to this challenge.

I also announce the opening of the voting and critiquing round. Please post your votes and critiques in the entries thread. Remember, even if you didn't post an entry you can still vote and offer a critique.

When voting for the best opening line (worth a bonus point) a 'line' is 65 characters and spaces.

Phil.

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tesknota
Member
Member # 10041

 - posted      Profile for tesknota   Email tesknota         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Ahh well, couldn't come up with a good one this time. I'll contribute my votes though! =D
Posts: 239 | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Disgruntled Peony
Member
Member # 10416

 - posted      Profile for Disgruntled Peony   Email Disgruntled Peony         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by IRWhite:

Cognitive Dissonance:

The opening has a great hook and it does a good job describing the POV character's attitude and predicament.

Still, I think the passage needs some work.

First, I'm all sorts of tickled pink about "augmented eye," but I'd have loved a bit of a hint how this affects the character's vision (does she see the individual threads of the carpet? Or maybe she has a HUD through it, and it calculates roughness, composition of a stain, depth of threads, pliability of the fabric, etc.?) It doesn't need to be in the first sentence, of course, but maybe when you're describing her trying to fight the sleep, it could come into play? This passage is full of juicy tech (augmented physique, hijacking of consciousness, etc.), but the sensory experience of the reader through the character isn't any different than if the character had been a regular teen without this tech. Does that make any sense?

Then, the passage reads like a first draft -- written quickly, to dump the words on the page before they're lost along the way. But because you posted the other entry, I know that you have the skill to polish this.

As far as the challenge goes, though, I think you missed an opportunity to give more of the physicality of the character (I took the challenge to be that, since mental state and predicament is about the easiest thing to do in 1st Person POV, in my opinion). A way I'd have handled it: some sort of ritual prep the character does before therapy (ties her hair in a ponytail; wipes off her make up; puts on make up; maybe her augmented eye is removable or she has other tech she takes off before being put to sleep -- anything that turns the attention to her appearance, where it becomes possible to sneak in description).

After reading this entry over again, I definitely agree that it needs a lot of polish. I had a lot of information I was trying to convey in a small space and a lot of detail work got left out as a result. I do plan to write this story out in its entirety (this is the one that grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go). As such, I will strive to refine the narrative in future.

I do think you're right about the missed opportunity of physical description through pre-therapy ritual. I'll freely admit that it didn't occur to me, but it makes a lot of sense.

Thank you for the crit!

Posts: 742 | Registered: May 2015  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Grumpy old guy
Member
Member # 9922

 - posted      Profile for Grumpy old guy   Email Grumpy old guy         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I am extending the cut-off for voting and critiques until midnight Sunday UTC.

The reason: I've simply been too lazy to do much this week and I, at least, should offer my opinions.

Phil.

Posts: 1605 | Registered: Sep 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2