Writing 101: Day SIX: study of a Character
Day SIX: Character Study
Today’s Prompt: Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?
Our stories are inevitably linked to the people around us. We are social creatures: from the family members and friends who’ve known us since childhood, to the coworkers, service providers, and strangers who populate our world (and, at times, leave an unexpected mark on us).
Today, write a post focusing on one — or more — of the people that have recently entered your life, and tell us how your narratives intersected. It can be your new partner, your newborn child, or the friendly barista whose real story you’d love to learn (or imagine), or any other person you’ve met for the first time in the past year.
Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.
In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations! – Anton Chekhov, Letter to Alexander Chekhov; May 10, 1886
Don’t just list their features. Tell us something about how their physical appearance shapes the way they act and engage with others. For example, see how the author of this moving photo essay, which documents the final weeks of a woman dying of cancer, captures the kernel of the woman’s spirit with a short, masterful statement: ‘Her eyes told stories that her voice didn’t have the power to articulate and she had a kindness that immediately made me feel like we had been friends for years.’ Give us a glimpse of what makes this person unique. We all have our own quirks, mannerisms, and individual gestures, both physical and linguistic.
The Dignified Beggar
Would you associate dignity with a beggar? But that is exactly how it was with this old, emaciated man who begged at the same spot everyday, a few yards away from my home. He would come early in the morning and set himself up. Neatly he would arrange his mat, plastic sheets, begging utensils and sometimes when it was very sunny or rainy, an umbrella to shield his head.I invariably would give him some food, left over from the previous night, or at least a banana or two.
He was almost bald, with wide-set eyes, a prominent nose, hollowed out cheeks, a weak chin and a slow smile when you acknowledged him. He would quietly sit there till evening, a little apart from the others, silent and reflective, a contrast to the noisy squabbles near him. While walking past, some days I’d have nothing to give him, but there was no protest from him, no demands, said or unsaid. He would just be — placid, content, patient — no ire in his demeanour. I marvelled at that and wondered about his origins.
Beggars in India, like the homeless elsewhere, are not all born poor. Often extenuating circumstances — a natural calamity, a family tragedy, mental illness and sheer apathy to the old, reduces them to begging. It could happen to anyone, I mused.
One day, my dignified beggar was no longer at his spot. I surmised with regret that he had passed on perhaps, penniless till the end, but with the richness of his spirit intact.