Writing Prompt: Self Portraits

On writing self portraits to create dynamic characters.

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I was really excited because I thought the nerdy guy who lives above me had a girl over for the first time since I moved in a year ago. It turned out that he was just watching anime louder than usual.

Anyway, I’m one of those people who is drawn to water. Lakes, ponds, oceans, and rivers are all endlessly enticing to me. I see my ideal home having a window seat in a library which overlooks the bay of an ocean or even the precipice of a cliff that leads down to water while rain constantly splatters against the side of the house. The latter version I envision as something from the Jim Carrey A Series of Unfortunate Events movie I could be happy in that kind of darkness as long as there is water.

I genuinely believed that everyone felt this way about water until I met the guy I was recently seeing. He is terrified of water and thunderstorms unnerve him so much that he has to drive or go somewhere with loud music so he can’t hear it. I love thunderstorms. I should have known it wouldn’t work out.

Anyway, there’s a pond near my place which is one of my favourite places in the city; I fondly refer to it as MY pond. Yes, I’m like a toddler in the “mine!” phase. The only thing I see as having as much of a right to my pond is a family of geese that hiss at me from time to time. I’ve been watching the growth of their two formerly fuzzy babies for months; I can hardly tell the difference between the adults and the goslings anymore.

geese

My love of water brings me to my pond every day, sometimes more than once.

pond

I was at my pond today laying in the grass when I had an interesting idea.

My high school English teacher once cautioned against looking for literary tropes in your own life. The tone in which he said it was foreboding and ominous, emphasized by his following silence. This been a reoccurring theme in my life from the professor of my first university class, Intro to Fiction, saying, “Fiction is history” to Doctor Who: “We’re all stories in the end.” If that is the case, if life is really just a story, then it can be analyzed like a novel can. Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero of a Thousand faces, looks at how cultures throughout time who never interacted with one another created myths and stories that (aside from smaller details, like names) were exactly the same. This means that there are really only a very small number of stories. Every story is simply a retelling variation of these stories. Thus, if there are only a number of stories, once which type of story being told is discerned, the end can be predicted. If life is just a story, then life can be predicted. As someone who always sees herself in tragic characters, I understand why my English teacher cautioned against looking at life this way. It is a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down.

I was thinking of this at my pond when I began to wonder how someone would describe me as a character if I was in a novel, and I don’t just mean appearance-wise. We know as writers that a good character comes to life when they have quirks and ticks that make them people. How would someone turn me into a well-rounded character?

Then it occurred to me that artists paint or draw self portraits all of the time. What if wrote myself as a character as a kind of self portrait? What would look the self portrait of a writer rather than an artist look like?

This lead me to a problem: I know too much about myself, and if I didn’t find a way to dictate what  information to include and what to omit, I would end up writing an autobiography instead of a character description.

Genre was the answer to this.

How I describe my character will depend if the genre is realism, horror, tragedy, romantic comedy etc. For example, I likely wouldn’t want to describe my obsession with snapchat filters if I’m in a high fantasy setting similar to Lord of the Rings.

Screenshot_20170702-185515.png

What role the character plays in the story (protagonist, antagonist, anti-hero, supporting character, comedy relief etc.) will also impact the character description too. Me described as comedy relief wouldn’t be an epic saga of everything bad that’s ever happened to me. Instead it would likely include my penchant for going on dates with crazy people and falling down stairs.

Writing to a genre and accounting for character type will provide completely different character descriptions even though it’s all coming from just one person–little ol’ me. It’s like there’s a whole rolodex of characters waiting to be plucked out of, well, me. How cool!

Not only is this a really neat opportunity for self reflection–I think I want to create a whole book of them–but it will also provide inspiration for characters that I can use when writing for publication.

I’m going to post some of my self portraits on here, provided the information shared isn’t too scandalous for the internet. I will also make sure to dictate what genre and character type my character is so you can see the difference.

I’m too excited about this idea.

 

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