In-class exercise: Characterization

“I need to stop. I suddenly feel like I’m in my own coffin.”

“My God, Tracy, isn’t that a bit similistic,” Rudy mumbled, failing with yet another invented word. “I suppose a stretch might help freshen the air,” he smiled, glancing over at his pale passenger in the tiny rental sedan. Tracy was not amused.

They drove in silence for a couple more miles, both processing recent events and zoned into the gorgeous mountain scenery. As if two kids holding their breaths through a tunnel, they blurted out excitedly.


The duet was in response to a roadway sign announcing a rest area adjacent to yet another pristine Canadian lake.

Tracy leapt out of the car even before Rudy had time to throw it into park. She ignored the cleared path to the shoreline and bushwhacked blindly through weeds to the water’s edge where she collapsed into a squat, the wet toes of her boots a stark contrast to their dusty heels. Revived by the silence, she scooped frigid water onto her face—water splashing everywhere, water mixing with tears as they cascaded down her cheeks. She did it again, and then again, as if attempting to cleanse the day’s painful events from her memory.

The lake’s mirror-like surface, having momentarily assumed the turbulence of her emotional earthquake, returned gently to its former temperament. Tracy, refreshed by the serene environment, breathed deeply, closed her eyes, and surrendered to the peace that embraced her.

• In-class exercise: Choose one of your characters. They have just witnessed a fatal accident. Now describe a lake as seen through the eyes of your character. Do not describe or mention the accident.