An update from the thirtieth Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett
A summary of the workshop held on Saturday March 5, plus some of the output published below
We began this week's workshop with an exercise; first, we chose a character from a story or novel we had been writing and then made up a new character in our minds. Once we had this new character envisioned, we wrote 3-4 sentences describing this character. From there we entered into a discussion centered around the question, "how does description work?" The answer: when a writer transforms a physical or psychological reality into written language. Our first literary example was the novel Anna Karenina as it is a classic example of a well-wrought character, however based on the book What We See when We Read by Peter Mendulsund, we found that even with a plethora of character descriptions it is difficult to create a true image of the character. This observation led us to our first basic "rule" of character description: behavioral descriptions are more effective than physical ones. We then read a few specific examples including this sentence, from Don Delillo's White Noise, "He moved with a loser's hunch." Other examples came from Anna Karenina, East of Eden, and The Sound and the Fury. The second "rule" was that minimal description makes for easier visualization, that a good description withholds as much as it reveals. One such example of this came from Jonathan Safran Foer in the sentence, "He looked like nothing special." Another, from Barbara Kingsolver: "There she was. Her elbows stuck out like wings."The third and final "rule" of the day was that good description teaches us how to pay attention, best exemplified in this sentence from Guy de Maupassant: "He was a gentleman with red whiskers who always went first through a doorway."
The Participants: Zar, Penelope, Nova, Emma, Sophia, Alice, Josh, Amelia, Ellie, Gwynne, Chelsea, Quinn, Anna
The Challenge: Write a full scene in which you describe the character(s) without naming his/her physical traits.
To watch more readings from this workshop, like Sophia's below, click here.
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