As you’ve probably guessed from the title, I’m doing a lot of rewriting these days…
There’s my NaNovel from last November, which is slowly and rather unsurely making its way toward becoming a decent second draft. And then there is my Future Learn class, “Start Writing Fiction,” which I wrote about last week. One of the first week’s exercises was to write a short character sketch based on the physical appearance of someone we encountered within the last few days. Well, easy peasy, I thought to myself. I can do that like falling off a log. So I dashed one off about a guy I had noticed while I was out swing dancing the weekend before.
Since then, after reading various excerpts from really good writers, I have been challenged to rewrite that one little character sketch three more times, deepening it and trying new techniques every time.
I only saw the guy once, and we never interacted with each other! What is this madness?Impossible!
But the Red Queen tells us to always believe six impossible things before breakfast.
I have done it. And it’s teaching me a lot about how to access my imagination, let alone how to write decent characterizations.
I’m not really sure how to boil this lesson down into a pithy thesis statement, but I know it’s an important lesson, especially right now, when I’m slowly chewing my way through a much longer project. It’s good to see what I can accomplish with a bit of elbow grease.
In case anybody is interested, here is the first draft of my swing-dancer character sketch:
Early in the evening, the young man danced to almost every song, and never with the same partner twice. He was easy to spot out on the floor, with his red plaid shirt and bright blonde hair, shaved close on the sides but long and side-swept on top.
Halfway through the night, however, he stopped dancing and sat on the side, slouching back in his chair or leaning forward, elbows propped on his black skinny jeans-clad knees. Sometimes one hand would go up to finger the large white ear-gauges he wore, or to adjust his glasses. Occasionally he would pull his iPhone out of his pocket and send a message, but mostly he just watched the dancers, a vaguely melancholy expression on his face. He didn’t leave until the last song ended.
And here’s where it stands now:
He slumped back in his chair, watching the dancers with vacant eyes. Screw this, he thought. I shouldn’t have come. She’s not going to show up. Just another power play, and you fell for it. Again. He raised a hand to touch his ear gauges. They’d started hurting again. Stop it! She’s probably stuck in traffic. Anyway, you didn’t have to get here so early. You’re so obvious.
Benny Goodman’s trumpet blared, and bright skirts swirled past his eyes as the lights dimmed. A creepy feeling crawled up his back. What if she saw me dancing earlier? No that’s stupid. She’s not here. He pushed up his glasses and leaned forward to pull his iPhone out of the back pocket of his jeans.
“You coming? Otherwise I’ll probably head home.” He pressed send and leaned back again. Anyway why shouldn’t I dance without her? I’ve been coming here longer than she has. But those creepy silences…I wish she’d just scream, or throw stuff. Well, I’ll wait a few more songs. Maybe she’s in traffic.
Quite a difference, eh? I’ve put it through several different permutations, including switching to a first-person narrative observation where I come in as a character, because somehow that made it easier to include more details of physical appearance without sounding like a laundry list. When I switched into the character’s own POV, however, I found that physical description went almost entirely out the window, because people just don’t list off their own attributes like that. Unless they’re fashion/beauty bloggers, anyway.