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If You Were a Character in a Novel…

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H ow would you describe your face or your body? The aim of this exercise is to use descriptive details to make sense of the self.  Is your face oval or round? Is your mouth wide? Are your lips lumpy? Would you rather the color of your skin were different? Does your weight define you? Are your legs spindly or stocky? Are your eyes beady or froggy? How do you think you appear in the eyes of others? What do you imagine people are drawn to when they look at you? What effect does your appearance have on people? Let the adjective pile up and don’t be afraid to compare yourself to things. 

In Virginia Woolf‘s Mrs Dalloway, the narrator tells us what Clarissa Dalloway is thinking of herself:

She had a narrow pea-stick figure; a ridiculous little face, beaked like a bird’s. That she held herself well was true; and had nice hands and feet; and dressed well, considering that she spent little. But often now this body she wore (she stopped to look at a Dutch picture), this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing—nothing at all. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway… (page 10)

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

One Response to “If You Were a Character in a Novel…” Subscribe

  1. Jesse January 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    This is an interesting little exercise; here goes.

    The mirror was his friend or his enemy, depending on the prevailing winds of his erratic mindscape. When he was up, the mirror soothed him with compliments. It whispered sweet nothings with glassy eroticism, admiring his high cheekbones and square jaw. His nose was small but well-formed, his dark eyes set deep into his face like burning coals in a snowdrift. He was, his friend the mirror assured him, a handsome guy.

    But when he was low, the same mirror would show its (and thus, his) true colors. He was short, a head under six feet, with small ears and the hands of a circus midget. His smile was forced and insincere, hinting at something dark and troubled buried beneath nicotine-stained teeth. His eyebrows were like caterpillars removed from the dryer and thrown haphazardly above a pair of eyes that glowed with suspicion and self-loathing.

    He was an avaricious little gnome, hungry to prove otherwise, or a wild-eyed poet intent on doing the same.

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