Tension and Authority Day 3 - Writing from Within a Character: Measurements/Descriptions

Instead of writing about a character, write from within the character. This means that every way the character describes the world should describe the character’s experience. Two separate people never walk into the same room as each other. We each see the room and the occupants through the lens of our own life.

This is another exercise from Chuck Palahniuk’s Consider This. He advises to try to describe things form the character’s point of view. Part of this is trying to avoid using concrete measurements (No more six-foot-tall men, no more five-year-old girls, no more seven o’clock, no two-ton trucks).

Usually, we make comparisons when we see something. Eye witnesses are terrible in court. If you see someone from across the room, are they 5’9" or 5’10"? Are they 180 Lbs or 195 Lbs? Instead, naturally, we consider things relevant to our own evaluation and interpretation.

Instead of a 6’3" man, his example is “A man too tall to kiss”. Is it an hour long drive, or a drive the length of that jam band’s album?

Here are a few examples from songs:
Cassino - Lolita

Lolita, I love her, she’s perfect all over
Built like a bridge made of four leaf clovers

The first line is pretty tell-y, but when describing how she’s perfect all over, his description provides room for us to make our own interpretation and tells us a little about the way the narrator sees the world.

Garth Brooks - That Summer

She came to me one evening
Hot cup of coffee and a smile
In a dress that I was certain
She hadn’t worn in quite a while

We don’t see a yellow dress, or a dress with flowers on it. We don’t know the fit. We get the story the narrator sees about the dress.

Jason Isbell - Elephant

Winked at me and drained her glass
Crosslegged on the barstool, like nobody sits anymore

Here, we get a description of the way she is sitting crosslegged on a barstool. We don’t get an exact description, so our mind paints its own picture. We also see a little nostalgia from the narrator, comparing it to how people used to sit.

Amanda Shires - Parking Lot Pirouette

I never learned the names
The space between the stars, the shapes that constellations make
Big burnin’ jewels suspended in air
Aquariuses everywhere

Here, we get to know a little about the narrator by her description of the night sky. She see jewels and didn’t take time to learn the constellations, so she just sees Aquariuses everywhere. Further, if she’s into comology, I think Aquarius represents peace, hope, and nourishment.

For this exercise, try coming up with a character and writing a few lines from his/her perspective describing measurements. It can be length of time, weight, height, or anything. You can tell us anything we need to know about the character to help reading since we are just getting a few snippets here.

For this character, I think of a male cosmotologist:

Eyebrows had just started to occasionally blur my peripheral vision
But I still needed a standing monthly appointment for my hair

I could be at her house in about the time it took to do three crew cuts and a high and tight.

Her legs moved liked scissor snips as she crossed the room
But ended in a more beautiful me

On the first one, I am trying to portray his age. Maybe 40-50, when males tend to get those straggling eyebrow hairs, but many have not gone bald yet. The second one says he did not live too far away from her. Crew cuts are generally super quick because they are trimmers set on a singular low setting on the whole head. A high and tight takes a little longer, but not much. The third, I am trying to say that she walked fairly quickly and stiffly, but that she, like a new haircut, made him feel better about himself. The measurement is meant to be kind of time passing (crossing the room).

This was just the first thing that came to mind. It is a fun way of thinking. Trying to see the world from another’s point of view and embrace their expertise and experience.