Self-as-Character Assignment: Eight Examples


We all love a good character, someone who is complex yet relatable, full of all of the human foibles we are aware of, who may act differently from what we could ever anticipate.

This is by far the hardest assignment of the semester and also your first major assignment. Unless you have been honing your persona in writing for many years, you will have a hard time with this piece.

For this assignment, you will need to write a self-portrait. There are many ways you can do this. You can identify a structural element that allows you to move through personality traits, use interesting qualities or amusing actions to form a story or create narrative story lines that let us see you at your best and worst. So much of writing this piece is about making choices. Lopate chose to write about himself using his body as a device to make different kinds of observations about his character and personality. Other writers, like Geeta Kothari, chose food to talk about themselves as characters.

Choose a device that you can use to explain yourself as a character. A device is something we will practice with in many of the writing assignments—a tool that allows you to tell a story in a logical way when you might not otherwise have been able to tell it organically in the structure of your narrative.

However you approach this piece, make sure to focus on yourself in an interesting way. In other words, for better or worse, make yourself a character we want to hear and care about.

This work will be shared with classmates during class discussion.


Student Samples

These assignments are single drafts. This means that students did not revise these pieces. Rather, they turned them in as practice assignments for larger essays.

Neziah uses her history with eyeglasses to define her character.

Emma chooses defining moments from a series of ages, presented chronologically, to define her character.

Zachary describes his struggles with low self-esteem to establish his character.

Justine examines her history of relationships with others and her tendency to cry to examine her character.

Hannah uses humor to examine her body and define her character.

Or describes how his experiences at his local bar define his character.

Jeffrey shows himself as an overworked student in order to define his character.

Joomi uses her height as a frame to examine her character.


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Teaching Autoethnography Copyright © by Melissa Tombro is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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