Creating a Character

I want to invite you to our imaginary college class: Creative Writing 101. The setting is a typical institutional room with individual desks, arranged in rows. Florescent lights cast a dull white light. A white (not black) board covers the wall in front, and the teacher has a table to arrange his/her materials on. I am not the professor for this class, but I may decide to add a student character or put some words into the instructor’s mouth.

I’d like each of you to create a student character.  (Or two.)  How does your character act? What’s his/her role in this group of twenty students? Is this character going to sit up front or hide in the back? What is this character’s body language saying? What is he/she wearing? What questions does he/she ask?

This is not the first day of class. In fact, the students are responding to an exercise where the instructor asked them to point out three details about the room that they believe no one else will notice.  It’s a lesson in paying close attention.

Don’t rule out interacting with the characters that your blogmates add to the room. This may even be the opportunity of a lifetime: You can act up anyway you want in school without getting into trouble. Live out your dreams!

Of course, if you want to create the professor character, that’s fine too. Just add a character to help populate our room. Let’s see how creative we can be in coming up with an entertaining class period.

20 responses to “Creating a Character

  1. Walterburgle sat at the front of the class everyday. It wasn’t because he wanted any particular attention from the instructor. His vision never had been all that great, even as a child. Now, a non-traditional student, past the age of forty, early onset of presbyopia complicates his already extreme myopic vision. In so many words, he rarely saw anything clear in the room. His classmates will, no doubt, point out many things he hasn’t seen in the room beyond the short path from the door to his desk.

    Walterburgle eagerly thought of each detail that he could bring to light. Nothing he thought of seemed to him to fall into the category of a detail “no one else would have noticed”.

    His mind soon wandered. He started thinking of his classmates. Ella generally sat near the front as well. She would often talk with Walterburgle after class. She always wore the same perfume, Estee Lauder, Beautiful. It took some time to find the perfume at the department store. He sniffed each bottle, one at a time, until he found the ‘Ella-smell.’

    Michael started tapping his pencil against the desk. This was something he did anytime the room became even remotely silent. Walterburgle imagined that Michael might even have some clinical avoidance of silence. Tapping his pencil, bouncing his leg against the edge of the desk, or masticating with glee. It seemed to him Michael never quieted.

    The floor made the soft premonitory vibration just before the AC started blowing into the room. Walterburgle slipped his jacket on. He always brought it to class. The room or entire school seemed to be hinged on freezing the knowledge into their students.

    The instructor walked up to the whiteboard, eraser in one hand and a capped black marker in the other. She turned to the class, mistaking Walterburgle’s hand in the air while putting on his jacket called upon him, “What do you have for us?”

    Panic rippled through his entire body. Beads of sweat, despite the cold air blowing into the room, perched on his upper lip and brow. “Uh,” he started. The room shrank. The path the door, well-worn, seemed to ring out to him. He let out the breath he held. “The tile on the floor is white?”

    • Wow. You have created a room and a class that we can all now join. You even added some interesting students to go along with Walterburgle. Looks like he doesn’t much like to get called on!

      • I tried to cram a lot into that one. Three things that he noticed, start the room, insight on the instructor, and a little bit of that “human nature” thing.

        I think it rings true when we aren’t trying so hard to “see” everything, the world really opens up. I believe some of my best ideas come from that dark place, that is, oddly enough, filled with giggles. Maybe I should just drink some more coffee.

  2. Walter…..So Good and such a Hit at the end….The tile is white ! Classic

  3. Some writers need a wine and river cruise in Europe. Others might need Divine inspiration. Me. I just get on my tractor and drag a shredder around in rows and loops through a pasture of ragweed for 4 hours. And write. In my head.

    Gina Perkins sits with attention at a desk on the front row, left end, in her writing class. She has missed seven days of class and is eager to catch up. And be caught. She is dismayed to hear the assignment… blah, blah, three things people won’t notice. For nearly a semester she has sat in the classroom unnoticed by the other girls, the guys, and most hurtfully, unnoticed by her instructor, Peter Lahngfanger. Lahngfanger is German and speaks with a delightful German accent and Gina “lahngs” to spend some private time with him.

    At the beginning of the semester Gina, who pronounces her name Gyna, was just another frumpy, pudgy, flat-chested freshman, a girl keenly aware of her shortcomings. She had an immediate crush on Peter and began to flirt with him, alas unnoticed. She tried sexier clothes. Writing her best. Writing her worst and staying after class for critiques. Nothing got the attention of her Teutonic mentor.

    Gina began a course of self-improvement. She cut calories. Cut carbs. Cut fat. Even exercised. In three weeks her clothes were noticeably looser, but frumpier. Her blouses hung about her body like empty pillowcases. Setting a goal of losing another twenty pounds she battled hunger pains with furious writing. Some for class. Other expressing her obsession with Lahngfanger. Her mind ripped from Lahngfanger, to long finger to long-something else.

    Taking the money saved from not eating fast-food and maxing her credit card, Gina took a 10-day sabbatical from her current life. She got tattooed eyeshadow and brows, an upper lip-job, some young and modern additions to her wardrobe, and against the advice of her doctor who warned about too much too fast, she got a pair of C-cup knockers to fill out her new wardrobe. Recovery from the surgery took a few days, but when she stood in front of her full-length mirror, she giggled as a flat-bellied swinger stared back at her.

    On her first day back in class she waited at the door until time for class to start. She unbuttoned the top button of her blouse, shrugged, and unbuttoned the next. She made her entry, walking with a practiced walk of a runway model, moving her arms just right, trying for that sultry and seductible look. Halfway to her desk, front row, center, she saw that it was occupied, so she strutted to the last desk on the front row. A good seat she thought as she turned to give the class and Mr. Lahngfanger a profile view. She scanned the class for approving and envious stares, but to her dismay all eyes were on papers and the teacher.

    Gina flipped open her laptop and began to compose. She felt weak and hungry, the keys heavy and unresponsive. Her fingers moved without intent.

    Mister Lahngfanger began to call on students in an arbitrary selection across the room. There were only ten students in the class. She thought her name would be called after each student spoke. After the ninth student, Mr. Lahngfanger looked at his watch and gave a writing assignment. Gina sat in disbelief.

    As Mr. Lahngfanger moved toward the door Gina called out, but Mr. Lahngfanger heard nothing. The classroom was soon empty, and so was Gina’s heart.

    A knock on the door startled Gina as a figure poked her head in and called Gina’s name. Gina turned and answered. The figure spoke.

    “Hi Gina. I am Azrael. Friends call me Angel. You got a minute?”
    Gina nodded. “Yes?”

    “Gina. I am afraid a grave error has been made. I have been sent to tell you that while under anesthesia during your surgery, well, you died and no one told you.”

    Gina’s hands went to her mouth as she gasped.

    “So Gina, I have come to take you away.”

    Gina begged, “No. Please, no.”

    “I am afraid there is no choice, Gina.”

    Angel held up her hands which clutched a white cloth garment.

    “Gina, you will have to change clothes and wear this for your journey. This should have been done following your death.”

    Angel turned her back to Gina who removed her earthly attire and donned her spiritual garb.

    “Angel?” asked Gina. There’s no other way?”

    “No, my precious. No other way.”

    Gina caught sight of herself in the reflection of the window and begin to weep as her eyes darted from her head to the feet.

    “Cry my precious, cry,” offered Angel. “It is a common reaction to unexpected death.”

    Gina stopped crying and clutched her hands in grief to her chest.

    “It’s not that, Angel. It’s not my death that bothers me.”

    “Then what, Gina.”

    “It’s this clothing. No one can see my new boobs.”

  4. The sudden arrival of the angel really made this come alive for me. I am fond of things happening in stories that I don’t see coming. “Whoops! You’re actually dead. Sorry.” Funny.

  5. After Gina and her fake breasts soared away with her angel, Sissy Tice-Duncan and her original issue, bodacious tatas, sashayed her way across the front of the class and took the last seat in the front row. Sissy was clad in a lavender leather halter top and a skin-tight leather skirt with a hemline that was as embarrassingly high as her cleavage was disgustingly low. Sissy had no imagination and left even less to the imagination with that outfit. She had gotten a grant from a local initiative to help “Working Girls” return to school in an effort to prepare them for better prospects career wise.

    I have never liked her, thought Peanut, who was sitting on the opposite end of the front row. The way Professor Lahngfenger drools over her, she will pass on looks alone.

    “Peanut.”

    “Yes Professor.”

    “What is your answer about a noticeable item in the room?”

    “Well Professor, I noticed that Sissy’s monogram is STD.”

  6. Doctor Patel was in one of those giddy moods that gave everyone the feeling he really wanted to hear all about the cockroach parts stuck to the leg of the chair ahead of them.

    “Okay everyone, you’ve had some time to observe our classroom. Now, please describe for us, in some detail, three things about our surroundings you think your classmates will not have noticed. Amanda, why don’t you begin?”

    “Well, on the leg of the chair ahead of me….”

    Timmy O’Banion had heard it all before. Not, mind you, because he paid even the slightest bit of attention in class. No, Tim knew what to expect because he had taken the class twice before. Bored, slightly hungover, and increasingly disconnected, Tim reached into the side pocket of his well-worn 1962 US Army field jacket and took out a brand new Pentel Excalibur RX15 Rollerball pen. It was one of a pack of four he had recently received in a ‘care package’ from Aunt Irma that also included socks and an article from Readers Digest on the importance of a good education.

    Tim noticed that the Pentel was particularly well designed. The component pieces that comprised the barrel of the pen fit seamlessly together. In fact, there was a palpable satisfaction to be had simply by holding it. Focused entirely on the look and feel of the pen, Tim rotated it through several orientations until he held it vertically with the tip up.

    It was then, at T-minus 20 seconds and counting, the RX15 guidance program went internal. Two seconds later, computer controlled valves opened to allow hypergolic fuel components to mix in five small combustion chambers located at the base of first stage. Burning on contact, the hypergolic elements created a powerful exhaust that drove the primary turbo pumps. At 15 seconds to launch, the main fuel valves opened and the ignition system activated. The turbo pumps, now at full speed, forced a combination of RP1 and liquid oxygen under great pressure into the five first stage engines.

    Tim’s pen shook perceptibly as the stream of hot gas from each of the engines began to accelerate, ultimately spewing columns of red-hot plasma from each end of the desktop flame trench. A wiggle of the fingers on Tim’s left hand simulated the water deluge system that now began to flood the laminate launch pad.

    At T minus 8 seconds, the computer in Tim’s brain sensed that all five engines were running, and a ‘go’ was given for launch. The hold-down system that kept the vehicle firmly on the Formica desktop until proper thrust had developed was automatically released, and, ever so slowly, the pen rose from the desk. The soundtrack in Tim’s mind played the intro to the ‘Stones “Satisfaction”.

    Tim listened as the voice of launch control alerted the public that the vehicle had cleared the tower. Dr. Patel, standing in front of his whiteboard, seemed not to the hear the cheer coming from the gallery over the roar of the engines. In a back room at mission control, a team of Pentel engineers watching on closed circuit television stood and applauded.

    At 20 seconds after launch, the spacecraft successfully passed through the region of maximum dynamic pressure. With the pen now held closer to horizontal, Tim’s fingers acted as the exhaust plume creeping up along the bottom of the first stage.

    Staging, at T plus 35 seconds, was so violent that Claire DeLucca, the snotty ‘new money debutant’, looked over to see what Tim was doing. He cooly let the pen fall to his desk.

    “I got the dropsies I guess,” he whispered, knowing she really didn’t care anyway.

    Fortunately, men like Tim possess the ‘right stuff’, and despite the unexpected, the mission continued as planned with the vehicle safely entering a nearly spherical orbit two hundred and twenty miles above the Earth.

    Following a three orbit shakedown, Tim activated the payload by pressing the spring-loaded button at the base of the vehicle. This caused a shiny metallic cone to emerge from the nose of the craft. The Mark VII Orbital Energy Delivery System.

    Developed at the Pentel Advanced Projects Laboratory, the Mark VII is powered by a third generation Scripto tritium reactor. Stabilized in three axes, the system can deliver an eighty tera joule pulse lasting 2.5 milliseconds to a ground target with a position accuracy of plus-minus six inches. This is sufficient to vaporize even hardened structures to a depth of twenty feet below ground level.

    “So you noticed the faint outline of what appears to have been the word ‘poop’ on my whiteboard. That’s very good Nathan. Now, let’s see. Who’s next? How about you Timothy?”

    Instantly, Tim was wrenched from important scientific work of the highest order to the lowest of the mundane.

    “Well Tim? You are, after all, my most ‘experienced’ student. What do you notice about our surroundings?”

    Softly humming “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, Tim looked down at the four rotary switches on his desktop. Calmly, he manipulated each one in sequence, carefully comparing its position to that shown in the small code book (roughly the same size as a Readers Digest page) he had removed from the breast pocket of his Army jacket. As soon as Tim had set the final switch, a red lamp to the left of the target entry display began to flash.

    “Well Tim? Will I be seeing you again next semester?”

    A bead of sweat appeared on Tim’s forehead as he flipped up the protective cover over the only switch left on his Formica console and snapped the actuator to the position labeled ‘Commit’.

    “Ah, no sir. I mean no Doctor Patel. What I notice is, well, I notice it’s getting warm in this room. Almost hot. Yes, hot.”

    • Clearly Tim has had a misguided guidance counselor who stuck him a elementary creative writing course (again). I think Tim is ready for his creativity Ph.D., that is, if he can begin getting some of his ideas down onto the page. Thanks for the trip into space!

  7. Tim glanced back at Josh Hartnel waving his arm frantically from the back row. “Call on me!, Call on me!” it said. Tim hated Hartnel, with his mouthfull of flashing braces under his buzzcut pate. Hartnel’ s hoodie hung limp on his small shouders. Tim especially hated the fact that Josh never wore socks under his stinky white sneakers.
    Josh was waving frantically now, his right arm so tired that he had to prop it up at the elbow with his left hand. The cadavorous Mr. Lahngfanger never pointed his long bony finger at anyone beyond the third row it seemed. And with J. Lee Hooker’s six foot by three foot body crowding the seat in the small desk directly in front of Josh, he could hardly be seen, even by the towering teacher. Lahngfanger was more interested the people up front like Walter, Sissy, and Tim. And even Michael and his damn tapping pencil got more attention than Josh did. Hartnel remembered that the teacher used to favor that waif Gina, until she suddenly dropped out of class a few weeks ago.
    Josh was proud of the work he did on this latest assignment. He always took his work to heart. In this case, he had even come back to the school on Saturday and bribed one of the custodians to let him into the classroom for an hour. He took hundreds of photos with his Iphone, and saved them to a special album he had created in his Photos App. Joss spent most of Saturday night reviewing each picture in detail. He used the zoom feature on his phone to examine every minute object in his pictures.
    He found over forty items that he could have used in he assignment, but as the task had been to write down three, he finally whittled down his selection to that number. First he pointed out the glass light fixture that hung from the ceiling above his desk. I was a large frosted bulb that looked exactly like a woman’s breast with a nipple pointed towards the floor. His second item was a crack along the edge of the whiteboard that was in the shape of a flaccid penis. And his coup de grace was a pattern in the woodfront of Mr. Lahngfanger’s desk that was clearly an image of the labia of a young girl’s private parts.
    “Call on me! Call on me!”Shouted Josh from his small corner of the classroom. “Call on me!”

  8. VI’m sitting in the Trail Lake Lodge café at the table nearest the kitchen, or as we locals call it, “The Council Chambers.” That’s a joke because Moose Pass doesn’t have a city council, nor is it a city, but that table is where the locals sit. The only quasi-government the town has is the local community club, and it isn’t even called a community club but the Moose Pass Sportsmen Club. Membership is voluntary.

    I sip my cup of tea, deep in thought. I see Old Ed coming across the parking lot from his store across the two-lane highway. He’s in his usual attire of gray work pants, gray work shirt, and welder’s cap, which is a quilted black affair that is smashed so flat it’s a wonder it stays on his head. I’m looking forward to his company because it might help get my mind off this current writing assignment that’s driving me bonkers.

    Ed’s just about the heart and soul of Moose Pass. He’s been here since he was a little kid and his mother took a job as a camp cook for the Alaska Central Railroad. This was way back in the early part of the 1900s during construction of the railroad. Ed is now approaching 80 and he’s seen it all.

    He’s a slightly-built man, now a little stooped with age, but all bone and sinew, about 5’8”. Not an ounce of fat on him. Don’t kid yourself. I saw Ed do a one-armed pushup on his 67th birthday. He put a toothpick between the fingers of his right hand, put his left hand behind his back, and did a pushup, coming up with that toothpick between his teeth.

    “Hey, Ed. How are you today?” I greet my friend as he sits across from me at the table. This restaurant looks like something out of the 1950s. Knotty pine walls, red-checked tablecloths, lace curtains. A real homey place, makes you relax. People ask me why the restaurant was built facing the road instead of the lake behind it and I tell them that back in the 1940s, everyone in Alaska had a lake but few had a road.

    “I’m good, Gully. How’re you?” He pours an ungodly amount of sugar into his coffee and stirs it for a long time.

    “Oh, kinda bedeviled, Ed. I have a writing assignment that’s got me stumped. Supposed to make up a character and I am a blank slate.”

    “You’ll think of something,” Ed says. “Hey, did I ever tell you about the time the U.S. Marshal asked me to go up to Jerome Lake and fetch Old Billy? Well, Billy cut his knee real bad while he was logging up there. He couldn’t walk out for help, so he sat down on a stump and bled to death. By the time anyone went looking for him, he was frozen stiff.”

    Ed’s blue eyes are sparkling as the memories come. There’s a big of devil in those eyes. He takes a swallow of his syrupy coffee and continues. “So, I hitch up the dog team and head on up to the lake. Sure ‘nuff, Billy’s sitting there with his chin in his hand. Looks just like he’s resting, but he’s froze solid. I wrestle him into the sled and bring him into the Pass. I was hoping the marshal would take him, but all he’d done was to leave me a message asking me to take Billy into the morgue in Seward.

    “Well, I load Billy in the back seat of the Buick and head for Seward. He’s right behind me and I can see him sitting there with his chin in his hand and I’m getting a little jumpy cuz every time I hit a bump, Billy sways back and forth. I talk to him a little, hoping that’ll help cuz my foot’s getting pretty heavy on the gas pedal. By the time I reach those frost heaves down by Snow River, that old Buick is running full out. The last frost heave is the one that done it.

    “Billy bounces forward and his icy cheek comes to rest alongside mine and he’s jammed up against the back of my seat and I can’t push him back. Now the Buick is doing speeds I ain’t never seen before.”

    I’m laughing and shaking my head and Ed says, “Hey, there’s more. I get to Seward and drive down the alley behind the Stampede Bar cuz that’s where they store all the stiffs ‘til the ground thaws in the spring and they can bury them. Pete comes out and helps me carry Billy in and lay him on a table. It’s pretty dark in the back storeroom but pretty soon I can make out some other corpses and I’m wanting out of there. I’m getting pretty quick, if you know what I mean.

    “Pete’s rustling around looking for the log book so I can sign that I brought Billy in and get paid for it. I tell Pete I’m going to wait outside and right about then, one of those dead corpses in the dark lets out a groan and sits right up. I reckon he thawed out enough but I didn’t stick around to find out.” Ed’s laughing as hard as I am now.

    “Ed, you can tell some tall tales,” I say, wiping away some tears that are running down my face.

    “No, no. This is true,” Ed says and darned if he doesn’t look like a choirboy.

    We talk some more and all the time I’m thinking that I don’t care if Ed’s many stories are true or not because they’re just too good. He finishes the last of his coffee and stands up.

    “Gotta go check the water wheel and then haul some gravel out to Bruce’s place. Good luck with that assignment of yours. You’ll think of something,”

    “Yeah, I guess you’re right, Ed. I’ll think of something.”

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