The Character Sketch

Unlike a biographical sketch, which focuses on significant events in a person's life, a character sketch concentrates on revealing personality and character. In other words, it creates a vivid impression of a subject rather than recounting a life story. James Thurber's character sketch, which follows, uses techniques of description, narration, and exposition to let us understand the kind of person the father was.

James Thurber in Gentleman from Indiana

One day in the summer of 1900, my father was riding a lemon-yellow bicycle that went to pieces in a gleaming and tangled moment, its crossbar falling, the seat sagging, the handlebars buckling, the front wheel hitting a curb and twisting the tire from the rim. He had to carry the wreck home amidst laughter and cries of "Get a horse!". He was a good rider and the first president of the Columbus Bicycle Club, but he was always mightily plagued by the mechanical. He was also plagued by the manufactured, which take in a great deal more ground. Knobs froze at his touch, doors stuck, lines fouled, the detachable would not detach, the adjustable would not adjust. He could rarely get the top off anything, and he was forever trying to unlock something with the key to something else.

Because its purposed is to present information about a person, a character sketch is expository. Yet it makes effective use of description and narration as well.


Now You Try It

Write a character sketch of someone you know. Avoid telling everything about the person, instead, select two or three outstanding traits to illustrate with incidents and examples. You may find it helpful to follow the pattern of the model by beginning with an incident showing the person performing a typical action. As you relate the incident, or soon afterward, give vital information about the subject - name, age, and occupation, for instance. Is it important that the reader see the person? If so, give details of physical appearance. After finishing the sketch, reread it to be sure that it creates a vivid impression, making any revisions that you feel will make it more effective. 



These pages are from various handouts and excersises that I've collected from school over the years - I did not write them myself. If anyone ever finds the original teachers who wrote these (probably at some point in the 70s or early 80s), please let me know so I can credit them! If you wish to copy, print, link to or use these pages in any way, you do not need to ask me for permission.