THE ART OF MANLINESS | The Road to Character

The Eckleburg Workshops

A character is an imaginary personage who acts, appears, or is referred to in a literary work. Major or main characters are those that receive most attention, [such as the protagonist and the antagonist], minor characters least. Flat characters are relatively simple, have a few dominant traits, and tend to be predictable. Conversely, round characters are complex and multifaceted and act in a way that readers might not expect but accept as possible. Static characters do not change; dynamic characters do. Stock characters represent familiar types that recur frequently in literary works, especially of a particular genre (e.g., the “mad scientist” of horror fiction and film or the fool in Renaissance, especially Shakespearean, drama). (Norton)

Human character is in the foreground of all fiction, however, the humanity might be disguised. Attributing human characteristics to the natural world may be frowned on in science, but it is a literary necessity…. Your fiction can be only as successful as the characters who move it and move within it. Whether they are drawn from life or are pure fantasy—all fictional characters lie somewhere between the two—we must find them interesting, we must find them believable, and we must care about what happens to them. (Writing Fiction)

Character Writing Exercise

Make a list of your three best characteristics. These characteristics should be emotionally driven, not physically.

Now, imagine you and a stranger are stranded—island, forest, Everest…. You don’t know when or if you will be rescued. There is a moment, a key moment, when the stranger needs you to do something selfless that might cost you your life. What is this thing you do? What made you do this?

Make a list of your three worst characteristics. The pieces of yourself that you deny and wish weren’t part of you.

Next, imagine the stranger needed you to help and you didn’t. You saved yourself, not because you are a “bad” person in the “real” world, but you are in “survival” mode. What is this thing you did? Why did you do it?

Finally, take the “best” scenario and the “worst” scenario characters and amalgamate them. Write a new scenario in which the main character experiences both the best and the worst of her or himself.

Submit Your Work for Individualized Feedback

Please use Universal Manuscript Guidelines when submitting: .doc or .docx, double spacing, 10-12 pt font, Times New Roman, 1 inch margins, first page header with contact information, section breaks “***” or “#.”


The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the PresentEric Kandel.

A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.

“Cogito et Histoire de la Folie.” Jacques Derrida.

Cognitive Neuropsychology Section, Laboratory of Brain and Cognition.

Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Lynne Truss.

The Elements of Style. William Strunk. 

New Oxford American DictionaryEdited by Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg.

The Norton Anthology of World LiteratureMartin Puchner, et al.

The Norton Introduction to PhilosophyGideon Rosen and Alex Byrne.

Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. Patricia T. O’Conner

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.

Writing the Other. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.

from “After Life” by Joan Didion

“After Life” by Joan Didion was originally published in The New York Times.


Life changes fast. 
Life changes in the instant. 
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. 
The question of self-pity.

Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file (“Notes on change.doc”) reads “May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.,” but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact….

About Joan Didion

Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.

In 2002, Didion received the St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates.

Didion has received a great deal of recognition for The Year of Magical Thinking, which was awarded the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005. Documenting the grief she experienced following the sudden death of her husband, the book has been said to be a “masterpiece of two genres: memoir and investigative journalism.”

In 2007, Didion received the National Book Foundation’s annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. From the citation: “An incisive observer of American politics and culture for more than forty-five years, her distinctive blend of spare, elegant prose and fierce intelligence has earned her books a place in the canon of American literature as well as the admiration of generations of writers and journalists.” This same year, Didion also won the Evelyn F. Burkey Award from the Writers Guild of America.

In 2009, Didion was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Harvard University. Yale Universityconferred another honorary Doctor of Letters degree on the writer in 2011. On July 3, 2013 the White Houseannounced Didion as one of the recipients of the National Medals of Arts and Humanities, to be presented by President Barack Obama. In 2010 Didion had complained that under Obama the U.S. had become “an irony-free zone”.


The New York Times Magazine.


Dear Mr. Zimmerman, My Son Wears Hoodies and Carries Candies and So Do Some of His Friends

angry boy

I’m putting the alert out now. My son is fourteen-years-old. He is the tallest kid on his football team. He is built stronger and leaner than most men, let alone teenagers. He works out. He walks from the house to the store and from the store to the house. He sometimes wears hoodies and carries candy. He has been known to eat Skittles. He has a kind face but if you met his silhouette in a dark alley, you’d probably piss your pants. He can be a smart alec, at times. He is mindful, respectful, helpful. He is a kind boy. And he is capable of getting into normal boy trouble. And I am putting the word out now, for any gun wielding neighborhood watchmen, be it in Sanford, Florida or elsewhere, if you hurt my son or any of his friends of any ethnicity, size, shape, fashion sense, age, smart ass attitude, candy proclivities, I don’t care if he or they were mouthing off to you or putting you on your ass after you got in their face and/or waved a gun, if you hurt him or them, I will find you and I will put you on your ass, myself. Be warned. If you think a hoodie wearing, candy carrying boy is criminal, you will not be able to conceive of his mother.

Best make a call, let those boys go on their way. If they are getting into trouble, let the police deal with it. Or their mothers. Trust me, we know how. No gun-wielding, racist, psycho bullies required. Okay? Great. Glad we got that out of the way.