#TeachersWrite Day 4: Expanding Voice and Characterization

Today’s Teachers Write task comes from author Tracey Baptiste, challenging us to dive into character voice. There are 4 separate exercises; each task concentrating on a different aspect of character voice, some timed for quick responses. We were asked to choose a character from a work in progress, one who we are still trying to develop or figure out.

Since I write nonfictional stories about my experiences with random acts of kindness, this type of task is a challenge to me because I don’t really have a character in mind for a work in progress. I’m still trying to figure out what type of writer I want to become! But I am intrigued by complicated characters, those who appear to have it all together on the surface, but are brimming with chaos inside.

Below are my contributions for today’s writing assignment, all rough drafts with no edits.

Exercise 1: Character Visualization (timed tasks)

Your character appears in a doorway and walks into a room. What is your character wearing? (2 minutes to write):

The pearl necklace lies delicately around her neck, a dainty reminder of her youth that is quickly passing behind. Her yellow dress radiates with sparkles, the stiff tulle peeking from below the hem, grazing her knee with each step. She stands tall, supported by her black heels, a curious color choice for a 16 year old in spring. She wobbles a bit, unfamiliar with the height of the shoes that were borrowed from her mom moments before.

Your character looks around the room he or she entered. Describe the objects seen in the room (2 minutes to write):

The carnations were arranged with bright colors of pink and yellow, a false tone of joy to overshadow the gloom. The picture frames were neatly arranged on tabletops; the guest book half filled with signatures of friends and family, the ink smearing from the cheap pen. The walls were somber gray, with subdued silhouettes of calm scenes that no one cared to see.

People start to approach your character. Who are they and what is their relationship with your character? (4 minutes to write):

As she entered the room, the eyes followed; after all, everyone was there to lend her support. She, however, didn’t want their support, didn’t want their attention, didn’t want to justify their pity. She wasn’t here for them. She was here out of obligation, a forced requirement that did nothing to build her up nor tear her apart. She wanted to scream. Hit something. Hit someone. Make the past 48 hours reverse in time.

But she walked forward. Eyes dull, she nodded as Uncle John gave her an awkward hug, his arms not quite knowing how tight to squeeze. Aunt Jill patted her hand, which only made her feel even worse, like a 10 year old receiving a correction for misbehavior.

This was not her fault. She had done nothing wrong.

Exercise 2: Becoming Your Character – The Interview

What do you love the most?

Freedom. Independence. Choice. I want to be who I am, not struck down by your expectations and limited views of success.

What do you hate the most?


Who are you jealous of?

The sea. The waves that crash on the shore – loud, roaring, unconstrained. Even as the pull of the sea draws back, it comes again, even stronger. I want to be the sea.

If you could do anything right now, what would it be?

Take off these shoes and rip away the three inch heels so no woman anywhere would have to ever wear them again.

What is your biggest secret?

I can see through people like a blade slicing skin.

Exercise 3: Flip the Switch (Same questions for the same character, but imagine he/she has suddenly been transformed into his/her antithesis.)

What do you love the most?

Safety. Security. My family and friends. They are my rock and I need them for all that I do.

What do you hate the most?

The way she looks at him.

Who are you jealous of?

My sister. She’s the favorite and everyone knows it. I live in her shadow constantly, but it’s understandable. She’s beautiful with a certain poise and grace I could never master. Social graces surround her, not me. I’m the ugly duckling who trips over their feet even when they’re not wearing shoes.

If you could do anything right now, what would it be?

Fill a bath high with bubbles and soak for hours in the tub.

Exercise 4: Conversion 

Describe the scene as if it were written for a play manuscript. Discover what emotion remains or is removed from the character.

Picks up pen. Begins to write with shaking hands. Eyes squinting, tries again with success. Returns pen to the holder and scans the room. Sees black in every form of fashion: dress, skirt, suit, shoes. Notices a speck of red in the crowd and moves towards the blaze of fire. The back of her hair, a cascade of auburn curls haphazardly tossed over her shoulder, held to the side by a plastic black clip, contrast with the red dress. She reaches her destination and gently touches the girl. Her head turns, eyes shift, recognition. The pause between acknowledgment and acceptance is brief, but unnoticed by others. They hug from obligation, their arms like bars crossing over a cage. Their smiles are forced, but believable. They are sisters, but enemies.


I was surprised that my character developed so quickly with hidden layers of anger and defiance. I assumed when I started this task that despite my wish for a complicated character, I would be limited by my own writing experience and only develop a flat-line, transparent voice. Today’s task forced me to dig deeper, to allow my mind to work it’s own power, and create a character and voice I had yet to meet.


2 thoughts on “#TeachersWrite Day 4: Expanding Voice and Characterization”

  1. There is so much here that I truly enjoy. Unexpected contrasts (black heels), depth of character (especially the anger), and the descriptive analogy of seeing through people (like a blade slicing through skin).

    But my favorite part? Oh without a doubt – “I want to be the sea”.

    Your character knew her jealousy, and wanted it to be known. Ached for the freedom and power of the waves crashing on their. My character was wound so tight, she couldn’t admit to a jealousy, nor would she ever unveil her secret.

    You have such a wealth of natural talent, whether you ink fiction of non-fiction!

  2. You took the words right out of my mouth when you wrote “I didn’t have a work in progress!” You really RAN with this and created a really believable character with lots of depth. I’m especially intrigued by the “him” in your Q+A- looks like you have a lot to build on! I am still not ready to share what I made from scratch- I feel like I’m so far behind others who have a store of writing to pull from.

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