Assignment 2 – Reflective Commentary

Part Two in Writing Skills covered describing characters and placing them in settings. The assignment was to describe a character and to let this character’s life drive the narrative. With the tools learned during this project, I produced a story that showed the character in a setting that supported her mood and situation.

Describing characters is about building them one detail at a time. Moving from a list of physical descriptions to something interesting is challenging. Within the list, I found original ways to describe physical attributes, e.g., “her swollen belly bore deep stretch marks like crocodile skin”. I also learned to describe personalities without using abstract nouns, e.g., for depressed I chose “she sits like a sunken garden in winter”. Ongoing, I need to remember to incorporate all five senses and gestures.

Placing a character in a setting can develop the character’s emotions and story. My practice produced pieces that did not flow well. In one exercise, I created a feeling of impending danger but the writing was jagged: “A whiff of rancid oil hit his nose. The traffic hum was pierced by a siren. Lights flashed from oncoming cars as he approached”.

However, when placing characters with their possessions, the flow began to improve. In one exercise, I described a photo of a character and her husband. Then, I listed all she would see coming home to an empty flat. Using the tools gained describing a character in a setting, I described the flat in ways that would reflect her mood. I made a conscious effort to slow down and allow the character to tell this story. The result was satisfactory and used as the draft for my assignment.

In an exercise about motivating your character, I chose to develop a story about a person who survived the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. It was difficult to write because I became emotionally involved. Indeed, Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones infers that writers can avoid taboo subjects because of fear: “Underneath, while you write you are a little nervous, not knowing how to get to what you really need to say and also a little afraid to get there”.

For the assignment, the first draft was created when placing characters with their possessions. This is a family story. Grace has lost her husband and has two children. The spooky element came about when the story wrote itself through free writing. It helped to show Grace’s fear. In the second draft, the point of view was changed to gain more intimacy. However, having Grace describe her own possessions sounded contrived. In the third draft, some descriptions were moved, as there was too much description in the beginning and this slowed the action. The story was finished after I had checked the rhythm of the sentences and paragraphs.

In conclusion, I have learned to describe a character and place them in a setting that supports their mood and personality. In future, I need to remember to use gestures. In addition, I need to introduce senses other than sight. Further, I must not get mired in details. Apart from this, I created an assignment that met the requirements of Part Two.


Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones. Boston: Shambhala, 2005.


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