image: headless woman in white dress with polka-dots

The 7 Line Biography: Creative Writing Prompts for Busy People

CREATIVE WRITING PROMPT: 7-LINE BIOGRAPHY

Think of a character you want to write about. For the first sentence, write down her name and her job, such as “Fiona Ferguson, Web designer.” In the next three sentences, describe her so that she fits commonly held beliefs or stereotypes about people who do this type of work. In the next (also the last) three sentences, tell us something about your character that goes against the stereotypes.

Estimated Time to Crush It: 5-15 minutes

The idea here is not to fret over each detail the way we might in creating a character we intend to live with for an entire novel or screenplay, but rather to build a character out of circumstance. The exercise in its totality will yield seven sentences exactly. These sentences can be as long as you like, of course, get crazy with the semicolons by all means—in my opinion people don't use them enough—and go nuts with the commas and colons too if you find yourself overflowing with words. Yoking the writer with the limitation of seven sentences isn't to curtail the length of the narrative. The purpose of the seven line limitation is structural.

Keep in mind that it's a biography, not a story, and you'll find that seven lines is enough space to create a well-rounded character description if you choose what to share thoughtfully. With only seven sentences, I wouldn't, for example, waste any space describing someone's clothes or hair. After all, superficial observations only indicate current circumstances — and a person's circumstances isn't who they are ( just like in real life — every man covered in blood isn't a doctor, ya dig?). On the other hand, a sentence about how a man habitually steals his coworker's lunch at work gives us more intimate knowledge of a specific personality. Who would steal a coworker's lunch? Perhaps someone so broke they can't afford to eat any other way. Maybe someone living paycheck-to-paycheck... maybe living in his car? We won't know what the story is behind the theft but we want to know more. By contrast, that someone has brown eyes or is tall doesn't make me want to know more in the same way.

[KiwiClickToTweet tweet="Superficial observations rarely produce meaningful feelings." quote="Superficial observations rarely produce meaningful feelings.                                    "]

Usually I do this exercise multiple times in a row just for kicks. It puts me in a happy place. I encourage all human beings to try it. Creating fictional characters is fun: I find it freeing to do a bit of creative writing without committing myself to 'do' something with it.

Wizard Tip: I suggest keeping these 7-line biographies in a folder (either paper or digital).

Use your 7LB cast of characters like a database of personalities you can populate your stories with. Need a guy to bag the groceries at the supermarket in your mystery story? Open up your 7LB folder and see if any of the 5-minute characters you created can do the job. Knowing a few specific details about a supporting character can add richness and color to the dialogue in your story.

If you've got a few minutes now, give it a go!

HERE’S ONE OF MINE…

Aedyt Kerron, Poltergeist. Likes: taunting animals—especially dogs, holding hands, pushing buttons on electrical appliances and befriending small children. Dislikes: vacuum cleaners, cats, and white sage (when burned as incense). Maintains that this house is ‘her house’. Is—despite appearances—never lonely. Enjoys spending time with friends and family when she’s not “working”. Aedyt sees orbs sometimes but doesn’t really understand what they are doing; she finds them ‘creepy’.

By the way, you’ll see some of my more favorite characters I created using this prompt sprinkled throughout my posts. If you want to see the ones I’ve posted so far, do a search for Favorite Writing Prompts.