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Writing Character Sketches

by The Editor Company   


The most important thing for a writer to remember in working up a character sketch of any person prominent in the public eye is the necessity of a view-point that is distinctly the author's own. Seldom is it possible to state many new facts about a well-known person, but the point of view may atone for this lack of original matter.

The time when Opportunity knocks at the door of the writer of character sketches is when persons who have, in a measure, "taken a back seat" again come to the front and attract public attention. Opportunity knocks the loudest, possibly, when a hitherto unknown quantity becomes an a or a b in the algebraic world of affairs. At such times the manuscript may often find ready acceptance if sent "unbidden" to the editor's door. After the view-point has once been secured, it should not be changed—except for good reasons. For example, if one has chosen to look upon Governor Hughes, of New York—to use an illustration with which we are familiar—as a new teacher of political methods, one should keep this figure throughout the article. The close of the legislature is the last day of school. The public examination of a man like Kelsey is the examination of a pupil by a teacher. If the one examined stands the test, he passes "with honor"; if he fails, he—to use the vernacular of school days—flunks. Other comparisons might be given but it is doubtless unnecessary. To keep the. point of view always the same is to give unity to the article. It is doubtful if this view-point is the best from which to look at Governor Hughes. A much better one is to look at him as "an attorney for the people." Another good view-point is to consider him as a new player in the game of political baseball. The other players who are used to curves are at a loss to understand a straight, swift ball, sent squarely over the plate.

The view-point most often chosen is to look upon the subject of the character sketch simply as a man or a woman, as the case may be. In such instances it is necessary to have a fund of anecdotes to brighten the bare statement of facts. Avoid dates as much as possible, though some are always necessary. A good character sketch for a magazine and a good character sketch for an encyclopedia have only one point in common— truthfulness. At this point attention should be called to the fact that the truth should never be sacrificed for the sake of making an article interesting, no matter how great may be the temptation. The reputation for being truthful in one's article is the best asset any magazine writer can have. Many an in-teresting manuscript is returned by the editor because the author has a reputation of not always telling the truth, and the editor has not the time to investigate the article.

Too much emphasis can not be laid upon the necessity of good photographs to illustrate character sketches. Striking photographs may sell a fairly uninteresting manuscript. It will, therefore, pay one to spend almost as much time in securing good photographs as in collecting material for the article.

While a character sketch must often be written oh the spur of the moment, it is seldom, if ever, possible to collect material on short notice. The writer, therefore, will find it a great convenience to have a number of envelopes, each of which is de-voted to one prominent man and in which may be filed anecdotes, Interesting facts, etc. Some such system will be found in every first-class newspaper office and it explains how a paper is always prepared for sudden emergencies, such as deaths, etc.

Those who can do the work will find in the writing of character sketches a most attractive field and one that is not overcrowded.