Sandbox Challenge #7: Create a Vivid Character in Just One Sentence

colorful neighborhood mural / photo by Kevin Rosseel

If I told you I know a guy who wraps all his books in library-quality thick plastic covers, would you form an impression about his personal qualities as well as his bookshelves?

This is what a former writing teacher of mine calls a “clincher detail”—one little fact about a character that reveals a deep truth about his or her essence. An example from literature is Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, who continues to wear her wedding dress decades after her fiancé left her at the altar.

Today’s Challenge: In one sentence, create a character with a small fact that reveals the larger truth of his/her fundamental nature.

Here are a couple of mine:

When he saw a homeless person on the sidewalk ahead, Jack grabbed the change from his pocket, carefully removed the quarters, and dropped the rest into the man’s outstretched hand as he walked past.

Janice always ate the contents of her plate in inverse proportion to her desire for each item, and, because of this, often found herself too full to eat the food she liked most.

As always, I’d love it if you’d share your creations in the comments section! And, if you can think of other characters in literature with great clincher details, please share that too.

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

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17 Responses to “Sandbox Challenge #7: Create a Vivid Character in Just One Sentence”


  1. 1 Heather November 1, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Vince took his usual seat. The one with it’s back to the wall and a clear path to the cafe’s only exit.

  2. 4 K a b l o o e y November 2, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Also bending the rules, but I made a movie once and stole the character’s clincher detail from a newspaper story I once read about an ex-convict who, after his release, still paced in the dimensions of his old cell.

  3. 5 stranglingmymuse November 2, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Heather, it doesn’t really need to be one sentence. My second example would probably be better as two sentences, but I made it one to fit the exercise. Thanks for sharing yours!

    Kablooey, that’s a fantastic clincher detail, and very visual for a movie!

    –Sandy

  4. 6 Annette Fix November 3, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    She dusted her boots with a suede brush before placing them into their original box. After seven years of wear, they were still immaculate.

    Ok, I want to know who’s been checking out my book shelves! 😉 My paperback writing books and favorite novels are neatly covered with clear shelf paper.

    • 7 stranglingmymuse November 3, 2009 at 11:52 pm

      Ha! Now I know two people who cover their books like librarians!

      Great clincher detail, Annette. Thanks for stopping by and sharing it.

      –Sandy

  5. 8 Toni Sunseri November 10, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Thought I’d jump in the sandbox…

    Her day could not begin without the whirr of wheels, the spit and crunch of limestone gravel, ‘Phia chased the morning sunlight as it pinballed through the trees trying to catch last night’s dreams.

    – as to bookshelves….

    Unlike her counterparts, she loved that visceral passage of time, the dust motes waiting for a feathered suitor to invite them to dance.

    Toni
    (antiquarian, not librarian)

    • 9 stranglingmymuse November 10, 2009 at 1:09 pm

      Beautiful, Toni — I love both of these images you’ve created. Thanks for sharing them! It really makes my day when people contribute their creativity here, and it makes this blog a much richer experience.
      –Sandy

  6. 10 Robert December 9, 2009 at 7:24 am

    His rugged demeanour and rough hands, both, softened as he held his new baby girl for the first time.


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