Prof. Jessica Penner | OL05 | Fall 2020

Week 5: Discussion of Characterization in Memoir (or other genres)

So, let’s talk about CHARACTER and how a writer shows it!

I’ll start with a quote:

When I tell gringos that my Mexican grandfather worked as a publicist, the news silences them.

Shocked facial expressions follow suit.

Their heads look ready to explode and I can tell they’re thinking, “In Mexico, there are PUBLICISTS?!”

I wryly grin at these fulanos and let my smile speak on my behalf. It answers, “Yes, bitch, in México, there are things to publicize such as our own fucking opinions about YOU.”

Myriam gurba

Think about this question: How does Gurba show her character (also known as personality) through this passage?

Authors of all genres strive to share the characters of the people in their stories. A good way to share a person’s personality is by showing their actions, the way they talk, how they appear, and their thoughts.

We’re going to see how authors do this!

  1. Go the email I sent you when I informed you that this Announcement was online. You’ll see I have a posted a link to a shared Google document called “Creating Character.”
  2. Click on that link.
  3. It will open a shared document titled “Creating Character.”
  4. Do NOT save your own copy to answer the questions!
  5. There are four quotes and questions that follow.
  6. Answer each question, making sure to have your name visible with your response. Again, don’t save your own copy. It will be saved automatically on the Google Cloud, and everyone will see each other’s answers, because it’s shared with all of us. Yay! (Don’t just copy another’s answer. If someone says what you wanted to say, add to the conversation. Write, “I agree with X, but I’d add X.”)
  7. Do this by Wednesday.

Notice that the authors don’t necessarily TELL us but SHOW us.

For example, an author could write: “Maximo was 63 years old; he felt a decade older.” But it might be more interesting and share extra detail if they wrote: “Maximo felt his hip snap. For a moment he stopped, waiting to see if it had broken or was simply reminding him to be careful.”

Next, think back on the other pieces we’ve read so far: Patchett, Anonymous, and Gurba. How have they shared a character’s personality through action, dialogue, appearance, and thought? Take a moment to review on of the reading assignments and pick out a few moments where the authors have done this.

Finally, think about your own writing–specifically, the second memoir piece you’ve submitted for feedback and are now working on a final draft to present to me on 9/29. How can you share pieces about yourself (or another person) without stating it?

Okay, so here’s Week 5’s Assignments. If you have questions, come to an Office Hour!


  1. Saja Musa

    Do you think that the main way we can indirectly introduce our characters is by using their own dialogue in order to introduce their personalities?

    • Jessica Penner

      Definitely! It’s way more interesting for the writer and the reader. It’s a way to give the reader a chance to be an investigator–figuring out the clues, finding the truth.

  2. Sarvinoz Erkinova

    Do writers’ personalities change over time an the way they present themselves as they write more? For example due to circumstances they have been through, their advancing age, and their expertise in writing?

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