Apprehending Someone Sensually

Can you do it?

Have you really tried? With a few strokes. To caress someone into being, bringing to fullness a sense of the essence of an individual.

In creative nonfiction, or in fiction for that matter, nothing demonstrates good characterization better than a writer who in just a few words can help the reader apprehend someone sensually. By that, I mean making that character real through sight and sound and smell and touch — using details that give a sense of the essence of a person.

In creative nonfiction, real people become characters when we put them on the page. A mother, a spouse, a grandfather. How awesome is that? Yet we the writer are so familiar with this person that we tend to launch into narrative without putting our reader in the presence of the individual. The reader needs to know the character. As the writer we are charged with making this individual into a character our reader can experience and appreciate.

We want to create characters that act in believable ways and characters that readers will find worth caring about. Because our characters are real people and there’s only so much we can pull from (like real characteristics!), it’s all in the slant and presentation; it’s in the dramatization of the character. It’s all about those sensory details that define a person, and it involves bringing together the idiosyncrasies, the stubborn tics, the memorable quirks, the antisocial mannerisms, the body language, the use and misuse of words — and those details that matter to the character.

Example: My father was a barber and throughout the last twenty years of his life, he told us repeatedly, “When the time comes that I’m in my casket for the viewing, you got to make sure my hair is right. You only have to fix the right side because that’s all that shows.”  That concern was a part of his character, and I daresay that not too many people worry about that.

Are you bringing your real people characters to life on the page?


We talked about character today in the last of a series of four classes at the Franklin Rec Center.  A new class starts in July — 6, 13, 20, and 27, on Wednesdays from 10-11. Everybody’s got a story! Join us to write yours better.

In August, I’ll be teaching a FREE CLASS, a one-hour session to talk about creative nonfiction to anyone who wants to write their real life stories and learn techniques to improve their storytelling and to make their writing come to life: August 31, 11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

And there’s a more advanced workshop at The Good Cup July 14 and 21. Read more.


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