The Character Description Project

I hosted something of a creative community project on Facebook the week before last, mostly by accident. By ‘accident,’ I mean that I didn’t expect it to explode into the huge deal it became (for me at least.) Here’s how it went down:

Writing About Writing (And Occasionally Some Writing) author Chris Brecheen (a fabulous human whose website you should check out) shares amusing writing-related memes, encouragement, and puns all day every day, in addition to churning out solid word-slinging advice. One of these was an older Tumblr post asking the reader to describe the original poster ‘the way an author would in a book.’ I didn’t like sharing something so me-centered, so I reposted it with a little twist.


Tumblr post: “describe me the way an author would in a book” – if you do this i might cry Additional commentary: ‘Comment and I’ll do one of these for you.’

By now, two weeks later, I’ve written thirty of these character descriptions. Thirty. With one still in the pipeline, because that one’s on the back burner for now. That’s a little over a quarter of my friends list. The cool part, though, is that I wasn’t the only one writing these–several other people joined in, writing lovely character descriptions of their own. There was even one who wrote a description of another commenter, without involving me at all. Two others shared the original post from Writing About Writing with the same offer to their friends.

It. was. awesome.

Also… frightening.

The day I posted it, I started the first response with silliness and flippancy. Not even trying. But as my finger hovered over the post button, something within railed at the artificiality. I just couldn’t make anything less than real, so I scrapped it and wrote a new piece from the heart. Not stopping there, I kept doing the same with the rest. I pulled together impressions, musings, and memories, drawing out the essence of my subjects, holding up a mirror so they might see their reflections the way I see them.

As a result, I discovered that the trouble with writing authentically about people you know is twofold:

  • First, it reveals a lot about you–the way you’ve noticed others, what you’ve noted, how many secrets you must know. Folks could be more on guard around me now.
  • Second, it reveals a lot about them–writers are observant by nature and so, I think, we often know things not meant to be known, without realizing. Things inefficiently hidden away. It wasn’t until I was halfway through–when some people came forward to tell me they were too scared for me to write their character descriptions–that I recognized I might be showing too much.

It’s sort of like fortune telling, where you, the seer, are peering into someone’s past rather than into their future.

The good outweighs the bad, though. There are 150 comments on the post right now. Obviously, thirty of those are my descriptions, but the rest (not counting descriptions written by others) are happy reactions to them. Each glowing a little stronger. There’s nothing so freeing as telling your friends how awesome and beautiful you’ve noticed they are, especially through your own art.

What happens when you angle a mirror toward a shining light? It brightens the entire room. That’s what I hope to have accomplished from thirty-odd hours of writing work: a brighter world.

(P.S. I will be posting one of these character descriptions every Thursday for almost the rest of this year. Stay tuned!)

3 thoughts on “The Character Description Project

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