What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, pages 47 and 48
Exercise completed using James, from CWE 7 on October 12, 2011
1. Character’s name: James Paul Crowe
2. Character’s nickname: JP
3. Sex: male
4. Age: 27
5. Looks: Average. He’s plain and will age into a plain looking older man. He has dark hair cut close to his head. It’s beginning to recede and sometimes he catches his forehead shining widely in a mirror. Whenever he excuses himself to use the powder room when he’s with company, he blots his head to swab off the shine. He has longish, manicured sideburns that work for him now, but he knows he’ll get a couple more years out of them at most before they look silly. His skin is clear, his complexion medium. His skin leans towards the oily side but it’s manageable. He has a wide but thin smile, and his top lip dips just a little too much over his front teeth. He is thin, which bothers him a little. He wears a lot of green and black.
6. Education: James has an undergrad in finance. It’s not from a great university or a not great one. He lived on campus, pledged a frat, and had a pretty normal college experience.
7. Vocation/occupation: He’s not sure how it happened, but he’s a receptionist at an accountant’s. It started as a summer job after college graduation. He applied for jobs at the local banks where he could have used his degree, but nothing panned out and he stopped trying after a year or so. He is immediately embarrassed when people ask him what he does for a living, and he wants to follow up with, “I have a degree in finance,” but he worries that it makes him look like an even bigger loser that he does have a degree but doesn’t use it.
8. Status and money: both unimpressive but not terrible
9. Marital status: never been married
10: Family, ethnicity: James’ family is from somewhere in Europe. They aren’t the type who are super proud of being Irish or Italian or Greek. He is close to his family in the way that people are close in small communities. His parents are married and live in a small house about thirteen minutes away. He has a sister, Renee, who is 24 and married to a man named Tom. They have a three year old daughter named Dawn. James sees his family at least every two weeks for dinner at his parents’ house or a family party. He never stays long at these events, but he’s good about making a showing.
11. Diction, accent, etc: James was born in Upper Darby, PA. To his knowledge, he has no accent.
12. Relationships: James has been dating Brenda for four months. Things are going well. Nothing earth shattering.
13. Places: James lives a pretty boring life. He knows it. He works at a nondescript office that often depresses him but he doesn’t know that the feeling is depression. He lives in a one bedroom apartment with a breakfast bar and a large bathroom. His apartment has a small balcony. There’s a fitness center in the basement of the complex.
14. Possessions: James has a bike but doesn’t ride it. He has a Wii that he used to play. He has a rowing machine in his living room that he uses a few times a week. His kitchen is pretty empty, and his bedspread is a faded black, almost gray, with geometric shapes in reds and greens. It is covered in tiny pills but there are no tears. James is hoping to replace it soon.
15. Recreation, hobbies: James is good at suduko. He likes to watch college basketball, and he has a row of bobbleheads from different teams lined up on his TV cabinet. He drinks a lot of protein shakes and eats a banana every day.
16. Obsessions: James worries about the growing bald spot on his head; specifically, he worries that it shines.
17. Beliefs: James believes in life on other planets. He thinks contact will be made before he dies.
18. Politics: He’s not particularly interested. He’s registered to vote but truthfully never has.
19. Sexual history: James first had sex when he was 16, and he’s had sex with eleven women. Since he’s okay looking, he can often get a woman to come home with him, but getting them to go out with him more than once is hard. He’s kind of dull.
20. Ambitions: James would like to use his finance degree and get married and have a family. He would like to become a rock climber.
21. Religion: James grew up Episcopal but hasn’t been to church in a few years.
22. Superstitions: none
23. Fears: James is afraid of snakes. He’s also afraid of being in a dark place by himself. He often has dreams about this.
24. Attitudes: James is pretty low key. He worries about a lot, but other people can’t tell.
25. Character flaws: James is a little boring, he worries, and he isn’t a great conversationalist.
26. Character strengths: James is pretty loyal and cares about his friends. He is always on time for work and even though he doesn’t love his job, he works hard.
27. Pets: none
28: Tastes in books, music: James isn’t a big reader but he likes the Talking Heads, Metallica, and old school rock.
29. Journal entries: James doesn’t keep a journal.
30. Correspondence: James exchanges emails at work. He talks to his mom on the phone a couple times a week, and he meets friends to watch a game and drink a few beers a couple times a month.
31. Food preferences: hamburgers, chicken
32. Handwriting: neat for a guy, looks like an architect’s writing.
33: Astrological sign: Pisces
34: Talents: he’s a good driver
Wow. This was so long and difficult and boring. Lesson learned: don’t try to write about someone who bores you. Why wouldn’t you take a minute to think about someone you’d enjoy writing about. Seems like a simple enough lesson.