Character Sketch (Composition)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

william hurt - character sketch
American actor William Hurt (See Examples and Observations below). (Mike Pont/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

In composition, a character sketch is a brief description in prose of a particular person or type of person.

In an early-20th-century textbook, C.M. Stebbins noted that the character sketch is "a form of exposition which has a deep human interest. . . . It calls not only for an explanation of the qualities of character and the manner in which they manifest themselves, but it demands or perhaps is, a description of the nature of the individual" (A Progressive Course in English, 1915).

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:

Sample Character Sketches

Examples and Observations

  • "The primary purpose of a character sketch is to inform, but it can also impress or entertain the reader or praise the subject. . . . The facts, traits, idiosyncrasies and accomplishments of the subject provide the fabric of the character sketch. Anecdotes and quotes are also helpful in portraying the subject. You can stress the subject's personality, appearance, character or accomplishments."
  • Contemporary Character Sketches
    "In the twentieth century, the satiric character sketch appeared with some frequency in the writings of such ironic and satiric novelists as Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) and Thomas Pynchon (1933-). At present, the satiric character sketch survives in dramatic form on television and in film. Comedy, especially situation comedy, with its reductive treatment of character, provides a favorable venue for the continued practice of the satiric character sketch."
  • Bill Barich's Sketch of a Publican
    "The publican, Peter Keith Page, lives with his family in a flat on the second floor. Page is a fiftyish man, slender and well-tailored, whose manner might be described as studiously charming. His mustache and hair are tinged with auburn, and this, along with a sharp nose and chin, makes him look a bit like a fox. He enjoys jokes, subtle conversations, double entendres. When he takes one of his turns behind the bar, he works at a measured pace, often pausing to ask after his patrons' health and well-being."
  • Libby Gelman-Waxner's Sketch of Actor William Hurt
    "In my dream, William Hurt came to my apartment, and he said that if I didn't give him my baby son, Mitchell, he would make me watch The Accidental Tourist two more times. Even in my dream, William Hurt was the most Caucasian person I have ever seen; he was like this enormous slice of Tip-Top bread in chinos and wire-rimmed eyeglasses. His hair reminded me of mayonnaise, and he spoke very slowly, like a Mormon on Quaaludes. He was like a huge rubber eraser, an albino Gumby, and he terrified me. William Hurt underplaying is much scarier than Shelley Winters at full blast, let me tell you. Just as I was about to head to the baby's room, I woke up screaming."
  • Annie Dillard's Sketch of Her Childhood Friend Judy Schoyer
    "My friend Judy Schoyer was a thin, messy, shy girl whose thick blond curls lapped over her glasses. Her cheeks, chin, nose, and blue eyes were round; the lenses and frames of her glasses were round, and so were her heavy curls. Her long spine was supple; her legs were long and thin so her knee socks fell down. She did not care if her knee socks fell down. When I first knew her, as my classmate at the Ellis School, she sometimes forgot to comb her hair. She was so shy she tended not to move her head, but only let her eyes rove about. If my mother addressed her, or a teacher, she held her long-legged posture lightly, alert, like a fawn ready to bolt but hoping its camouflage will work a little longer."

    Sources

    R.E. Myers, Figures of Speech: A Study and Practice Guide. Teaching & Learning Company, 2008

    David F. Venturo, "The Satiric Character Sketch." A Companion to Satire: Ancient and Modern, ed. by Ruben Quintero. Blackwell, 2007

    Bill Barich, "At the Fountain." Traveling Light. Viking, 1984

    Libby Gelman-Waxner [Paul Rudnick], "A New Scourge." If You Ask Me, 1994

    Annie Dillard, An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987