Composing a Character Sketch

Sentence Combining With Basic Modifiers

The following paragraph served as the model for the exercise Sentence Combining #4: Nervous Norman. In this character sketch, the student relies on adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases to describe his school principal.

After you have completed the sentence combining exercise, compare your paragraph with this original version of "Nervous Norman." Keep in mind that many combinations are possible, and in some cases you may prefer your own sentences to the original versions.

The writing suggestion that follows the paragraph invites you to compose a character sketch of your own.

Nervous Norman

Mr. Elmo Norman, my elementary school principal, was the most nervous man I have ever met. He was a short, pudgy man, always over-dressed. In fact, he didn't just wear his clothes--he hid inside them. His uniform consisted of a neatly pressed pin-striped suit, a thin black tie over a starched white shirt, and a pair of brightly polished brown Oxfords. His receding gray hair was always neatly trimmed, and his fat, wrinkled head always darted about like a radar blip on his neck. He paced the school hallways in a perpetual motion of twitching, fidgeting, and twiddling. In the space of a minute, he would wrinkle his little nose, scratch his plump chin, shrug his shoulders, straighten his tie, and glance at his watch, never once looking directly at the person he was with. As he spoke in his lackadaisical drawl, he would glance at the ceiling, inspect his knuckles, and check the floorboards for dust.

When the conversation was over, he would dash back into his office like a frightened bunny, probably praying that he could lock himself in there forever. And for all I know, he may still be hiding there in his office today.

Writing Suggestion

Notice how the student identifies Norman's outstanding characteristic ("the most nervous man I have ever met") in the first sentence and then goes on to give specific details that show how this is true.

Try this strategy in a paragraph of your own. Think of a person who has some notable trait--for example, the meanest, kindest, most boring, or most interesting person you have ever met. In a topic sentence, identify the person and his or her outstanding trait. Then develop your paragraph with specific details that illustrate this trait.