Assignment 2: Profile

1,000 - 1,500 words
Bring copies to class on Tuesday, 9/18

For this piece I'd like you to do a profile, which means, essentially, that you are trying to convey something crucial -- and not obvious -- about somebody else in a relatively short space. You've seen a few examples of such efforts by now -- enough to know that there's no single way to go about this.  But I might point to the essays we've read to suggest some of the techniques available: dialogue, interview, direct quotation, indirect quotation, action, the creation of scene. Consider the things you've read so far less as models to be emulated than as examples to be considered, and feel free to experiment. Just remember:

  • The point is to introduce your readers to somebody, to get us to see something that is important, and not obvious, about them.  Who you choose will determine how you approach this: if you choose somebody you know well, you'll probably write largely from memory; if you choose somebody relatively new to you -- or, if you're feeling adventurous, a relative stranger -- you'll probably have to observe them for awhile, and even interview them if you can.
  • You don't have a lot of space -- for this piece you cannot exceed 1,500 words -- so focus on keeping this tight and punchy;
  • You can't possibly tell us everything, even if you could manage to know everything. You can, however, imply far more than you say by trying to get at the essence of character.  Show the person to us;
  • What people do and say reveals a great deal more than what you can say about them through exposition. Don't feel inhibited about telling -- but think about what telling can do, and what showing is for.

Have fun. The inventor of the essay, a 16th Century French noblebamn named Michel de Montaigne, used to write under a beam in his library in which he had carved this motto:  "Homo sum.  Humani a me nihil alienum puto."  Translated, that line means this:  "I am a man.  Nothing human is foreign to me."   Consider Montaigne's mottow as you write this piece. Every human being is limitless and beautiful and interesting and vast. Think of this piece as a very small window through which we may see that human landscape.


Last modified: Monday, September 17, 2012, 4:08 PM