Posted in Random Thoughts, Writing Tips

Learn from the Masters: Sketching a Character

Author’s note: I have always loved To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I never tried to dissect the love to understand why until recently. When I was reading it for the nth time, I realised…

The book sketches innumerable characters from a small town, I am not into documentaries and the entire thing should have been absolutely boring and I shouldn’t have been able to distinguish between characters. But I love it. The character sketch is woven into story and narrator’s interactions with them. It brings out not just the physical traits but the entire personality. Here are couple of excerpts.

“We lived on the main residential street in town—Atticus, Jem and I, plus Calpurnia our cook. Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment.

Calpurnia was something else again. She was all angles and bones; she was nearsighted; she squinted; her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard. She was always ordering me out of the kitchen, asking me why I couldn’t behave as well as Jem when she knew he was older, and calling me home when I wasn’t ready to come. Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side. She had been with us ever since Jem was born, and I had felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember.”

“Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duckfluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him. As he told us the old tale his blue eyes would lighten and darken; his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead.

When Dill reduced Dracula to dust, and Jem said the show sounded better than the book, I asked Dill where his father was: “You ain’t said anything about him.”

“I haven’t got one.”

“Is he dead?”

“No…”

“Then if he’s not dead you’ve got one, haven’t you?”

Dill blushed and Jem told me to hush, a sure sign that Dill had been studied and found acceptable.”

Also, the author was not in a hurry to give away everything at the beginning. It is almost half way through the book when you realise that Calpurnia is black and Dill’s character sketch waits until we are a couple of pages through with him.

Let’s learn from the masters.