Fiction

Character Through Place: an Exercise

4

Our classes about characterisation, dialogue and place led to an exercise that I have really enjoyed doing. Professor Litt wanted us to depict a character through place. This exercise came after the workshop about characterisation. He had told us that if you create a gap between how a character looks and how it is, then it will be more interesting. This is why he wanted us to describe a character through his room. Then, the character would come on scene. He told us to give the sense of that gap he was talking about. This is my attempt.

Jake Lowell’s studio was quiet. His assistant had told me to wait for him there, as he was going to come back from lunch in a moment. His studio reminded me of one of those minimalist offices you see in the movies about very cynical and rich Wall Street businessmen, even if Jake’s office wasn’t on the top of a high building in New York City, but just on the first floor of a small cottage in Dover.

The white curtain moved slowly as a light breeze came in from the window. It was a nice summer evening, and pigeons were tooting in the garden. The desk was right under the window, just opposite the door, and two of the four walls were completely made by shelves, where books were piled methodically. There was a section for novels and short story collections, one for poetry and one for plays, but the biggest one was packed with screenplays and cinema books.

There was a full shelf dedicated to Quentin Tarantino. And then one to David Lynch, one to John Carpenter and so on. The first part of those shelves was occupied by screenplays, then there were the books about the works of those directors and their biographies. I approached to have a look at the desk. There was something strange in the colourful, warm look that those books gave the shelves, compared to the rest of furniture. The desk was made of steel, and everything was tidily set as no one had been sitting at it for a while. Pencils were perfectly sharp, sheets and notebooks were immaculate. The pen holders, the folders and files looked pricey. They didn’t seem like those stockpiles you buy at Poundland. They looked like elegant, classy pieces of stationery. Never used before.

I tried to find anything that could tell me something else about him, except from the fact that apparently he read a lot, but I didn’t. I couldn’t find anything written by him. Even a post-it. Nothing.

When I realised that he could come in any time, I approached the door again. I didn’t want him to think I was nosing around his room, but before I could reach the doorway, something caught my attention. Next to the door, there was a small cabinet piled with sheets and folders. On the top of it, a copy of Empire, folded in a half. Someone, probably Jake himself, had circled a short article at the end of the page. He had used a red pen, and it seemed like he had scribbled it furiously. It was a review of an independent movie. The reviewer had given it only one star and a half. It seemed quite a bad review, but I couldn’t read it – I needed to pick the magazine up to read the words. I didn’t want Jake to come in exactly while I was reading his stuff. But I could make out the name of the director, written in bold just under the movie title. It was Jake’s last movie.

“Interesting reading?” I almost jumped when I heard his voice from behind. He came in and quickly approached his desk, pulled off his suit jacked and threw it on the chair. I was immediately taken aback by his smell of wine. He didn’t introduce himself. He looked at me, as I tried to say anything that could make up for what I have done – which was, having a look at his personal stuff without being requested or permitted to. He tossed his briefcase on the desk, striking two pen holders. He didn’t mind the pens falling on the ground.

“Don’t worry. That review is one of the best I’ve ever had.” he said, pointing at the magazine. Then he started rolling up his sleeves. “Damn, it’s fucking hot here.” The hem of his shirt was dangling outside his trousers and the tie was loosen. He looked at me as I opened my mouth to answer, then he lit up a cigarette.

“I fucking hate this office.” he said. He approached the desk. “Why the fuck should I need a 8 pounds-worth folder?” He turned to me like I should have answered. I shrugged, too appalled to say anything. “I don’t know. It’s your office.”

He nodded. “I guess so.” Then he rubbed the tip of his fingers on his forehead, as trying to focus. “For fuck’s sake, what a bloody terrible life I have.”

That was the moment when I realised he was a bit drunk.

This exercise was very interesting for me because describing a place can be a very useful technique to start creating a new character. I have really enjoyed doing it, because when you describe a place with a specific purpose as to give the sense of a specific personality makes your work more interesting – at least, it makes it more interesting to do it. I have really enjoyed it and I am sure I will use Jake Lowell again in my writing.

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