Writing Exercise | Narrative Sketch

31 Jan

Please note, this is a twin post from my other blog, Tarable Tales.

Today’s writing exercise comes from The Art and Craft of Fiction, by Michael Kardos. Please feel free to respond with your thoughts, or your own version of the exercise.


Write a list of 25 things about yourself: physical attributes, hobbies and interests, specific fears, family history, or anything else. Stay away from abstract words. When you are done, circle five facts that, if you were a character in a story, would be most useful in giving the reader a clear sense of that character.


1.)  Her clothes were a helter skelter of different styles and sizes. They were the scattered leftovers of slowly coming out of adolescence and into womanhood. Most of them were the ill-fated result of gaining and losing weight. If a stranger were to look inside her closet they may think that it housed the wardrobe of five people, certainly not one.

2.)  She did have a fondness of shoes. Not wearing them, necessarily, but certainly buying them. She had three main pairs. One was sparkly and beige. One was sparkly and brown. One was shiny, red, and flat. She rotated them depending on her outfit, and often found herself wishing for a simple pair of black flats.

3.)  On her dresser is an oversized, thin plastic plate with a burnt orange flower pattern. That’s where she puts her clunky silver jewelry every night after she takes it off, right before her second shower of the day. Much like her shoes, she rotates out a few simple pieces and keeps the majority of her ‘good’ jewelry in a gallon-sized zip lock baggy in her empty armoire.

4.)  She paints her nails, at least once a week, although the polish never stays long. Depending on her mood they can be bright and eye-catching, or neutral and subdued. She remembers the way her mother used to do her nails every night to match her outfit for the next day, always so slow and precise. She thinks of her when she does them, although she is not patient like her mother. Most of the time she musses them before they are dry and wipes away all the evidence with an acetone dipped cotton ball. She cannot stand when they chip. She will secretly chew off the imperfect polish before she is seen with chipped nails.

5.)  She looks good in fall colors, and loves red lipstick-but she can never bring herself to wear anything bright on her mouth. It seems to go against her nature. She does not want that attention for herself.

6.)  Her skin is oily and it makes her crazy. Primer, blot clothes, obsessive washing and powder; nothing seems to help. So, she resorts to looking ‘dewy.’ All the magazines say that is what is in, anyway.

7.)  She has two dogs. Pugs. She got the first when she was lonely. She got the second because she thought the first was lonely. Now there are two. (The second loves the first, but the first was happier when she was the only.) She figures that hindsight is 20/20 and tries to love them both equally, even if she secretly loves the first just a little bit more.

8.)  She is one of those creepy people who think of her pets as children, but is grateful that she can lock them up when she’s sick of them. You can’t do that with kids…or at least she knows she shouldn’t. She does not want children any time soon.

9.)  Owls appeal to her in strange ways. She’s taken to buying owl things and putting them around her home. She doesn’t know why she likes them, exactly. She knows that when she sees them she gets a little excited. Maybe it’s the big, round eyes. They look like guardians to her, always watching and keeping a constant vigil. She thinks maybe deep down she craves a sense of security.

10.) In her bookcase, in a very old cigar box, she has her late father’s coin box. In it there are all sorts of different and strange coins. Some are valuable, most are probably not. Sometimes she will get them out and look at them. They smell funny, not quite like coins at all. Afterward she always washes her hands thoroughly. The coins always leave a thin residue on her fingers.

11.) She also has a very large ring. It is silver with a big curling dragon. In the middle is a sapphire. It wouldn’t fit most men. Not even if they put two fingers in it. She keeps in next to a picture on her mantel. It, too, was her father’s. He used to wear it on his pinky.

12.) She tries to fill her home with things that make her happy, even if they don’t match. This has resulted in an eclectic yet stylized look. Her couch is made of brown corduroy and canvas with big orange and brown pillows. On the floor is an oversized geometric rug with dark reds and browns and greens. On the wall are three photographs of black and white trees that take up one whole wall. There are bookshelves everywhere; they are full of things, but not all of those things are books.

13.) She’s taken to drinking tea. She used to drink coffee, if you can call the hot diluted, milky, sugar-water she sucked down as “coffee.” She still gets a nonfat latte now and again but finds she prefers Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Sunset with a tablespoon of Splenda to start her engines in the morning.

14.) There is the faintest of dimples underneath her left eye. If you didn’t know it was there, you would miss it. It’s a leftover scar from her childhood. Her father had been outside using the weedwacker and hit a rock. It sped across the yard, through the screen door, and into the living room, where it just narrowly missed blinding her. She thinks of it as a daily reminder that even the people you love the most will accidentally hurt you sometimes and even sitting inside where it’s safe doesn’t guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen.

15.) She travels a lot. Sometimes for work, sometimes for pleasure. She loves New Orleans and frequently chooses it as a destination for long weekends. She has never been to New York, but every year she says that this will be the year she goes. Somehow that never happens. Maybe this year.

16.) She is not from Texas. She is from a small town in Iowa. She misses the place where she grew up, but that place doesn’t exist any more. Even though she sometimes gets homesick, she would rather be where she is and a little uncomfortable then back where she was. There was no opportunity for her there; there was no adventure for her there. This is better, even if it is Texas.

17.) She is obsessed with using J and ❤ when she texts and emails. It makes her a little nuts, but she wants to be sure the recipient understands she is kidding/happy/loving whatever she is sending their way.

18.) Hard headed would be a good term to describe her, both literally and as a statement of her personality. When she was a child she smacked her head on pickle crock; it broke, she did not. In fact she went on her merry way with little to no regard for her concerned mother’s ministrations about the welfare of her skull.

19.) She is not afraid of the dark. She is afraid of the deepest part of her imagination that assures her that of all the unknown things that bump around in the dark, there must be one there with her, lurking in the shadows until she is most vulnerable. Mostly these monsters turn out to be piles of dirty laundry or oddly shaped furniture shadows. She knows that the things she imagines are not real, but she also acknowledges that the fear she feels is very real to her.

20.) The bottoms of her feet used to be ticklish until one day she figured out how to poof, turn that part of her brain off. She wonders why she can’t apply this technique to other parts of her body.

21.) Once every six months or so she gets the most terrible cold sores. They are great painful pulsing bumps that usually take up residence on her lower lip. Since her mouth is smallish to begin with, they are obvious to others. She has built up a tolerance to Abreva. She would go to the doctor to get medication, but she’s heard that if you get medicine for cold sores then your insurance will think you have a sexually transmitted disease. She doesn’t want that “pre-existing condition” to jump up and bite her in the butt later on in life.

22.) Hypothetical questions are a sort of pass time for her. She likes to ask, “What if?” Not just to herself, either. She hounds her boyfriend and her mother with silly scenarios and ridiculous options. One of her favorite ‘starters’ is, “What if I died, would you…?” then give them a multiple choice selection of a.) “remarry a woman that we both currently know, but you’ve never admitted you have feeling for?” or b.) “live alone and desperate as a shell of a person in a perpetual state of depression?” There are no other options. Mostly everyone finds this annoying, but no one has found a good way to shut her up yet. J

23.) She has a tendency to go above and beyond what is required of her without boasting or asking favors. However, when the time comes for recognition or reward, she has a tendency to become resentful if she is overlooked.

24.) She craves the permanence of a real house instead of the townhome she has now. She wants a nice home to inflict Pinterest projects on, with a fenced yard where her dogs can play, and extra bedrooms so her mother can come and live. She is awfully attached to her mother.

25.) Sometimes she goes for long walks around a park in a bad part of town. Twice now she’s been propositioned as a prostitute, even though she dresses modestly. She will listen to music as loud as the volume will allow and lose herself in a steady pace, a catchy beat, and a cloud of thoughts.

Thanks for reading. I hoped you enjoyed it! Drop me a line telling me what you think. Or, you could complete the exercise too and give me the link so I can see how yours came out. J


3 Responses to “Writing Exercise | Narrative Sketch”

  1. Mandy Ellsworth January 31, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Awe, you are such a sweetie. I feel like after reading this, I’ll be able to buy you better Christmas presents from now on.

    • tararace January 31, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

      Lol, thanks! But you always give great Christmas gifts. 😉

  2. Annon. February 1, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    1. If there was a god, all pedophiles would be sterile and their immune systems would be susceptible to leprosy (i.e. their dicks would fall off).
    2. Children should be seen and not heard. – Helps them develop the same good listening skills their parents have.
    3. Beanie Weenies give me gas.
    4. How can such a big butt as mine not have adequate cushioning for sitting on folding chairs for long periods of time?
    5. The weekends spent camping in the Santa Cruz Mountains did more to influence my religious beliefs than 10 years of Sunday School in a Mormon Church.
    6. Why does it take so long to earn money and so little time to spend it?
    7. The right word, writers have lots of choices – often there is only one word that paints the picture you want the reader to see.
    8. I like my long, bushy eyebrows. They have character. The women in my family hate them. They think it makes me look like a character.
    9. I like doing my job very well and the reputation I earned as a hard worker. I liked the recognition of my peers. I disliked awards, especially publicly receiving them. Let me do a fantastic job behind the scenes.
    10. I spend more time talking about fishing than actually doing it. I always enjoy going but spend more time planning.
    11. Rosie – live at Donnington. Angus! Angus!! Angus!!! Let’s hear it for ‘hot’ air balloons.
    12. I’ve always had a sensitive side and other males have been thoughtful enough to try and beat it out of me. Man Up Dude.
    13. Why is it that the term ‘country’ in front of music generates so much hatred and discrimination?
    14. Do the Republicans actually believe in majority rule or are they so wedded to their idiotology (sp?) that they don’t realize how extreme some of their beliefs are?
    15. I have so many baseball caps I could wear one a week for a year and still not wear the same one twice. Now I’ve switched to wide brimmed hats to stay out of the sun. How many cowboy hats can one man have?
    16. My ‘done-laps’ disease is so bad I haven’t seen my tally-wacker since 1974!
    17. Why is it that so many peoples’ belief systems are dedicated to cheating death? Seems to me the creator made it a part of every life cycle.
    18. I wonder if piercing blue eyes and a mindless, vacant stare would inspire much thought from a reader.
    19. During one hot, humid summer day I accidentally used baking powder instead of baby powder on my nether region. Baked a biscuit no one wanted to eat.
    20. Mark Twain is still one of American’s greatest authors and minds. He saw the coming devastation of overpopulation more than 100 years ago. It’s a shame some people can’t get over the fact he used the language of his day.

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