If you have read The Catcher in the Rye, you know that Holden does describe himself often in the book, which is one of the reasons I gave the students this assignment (it's good practice for their next book, where they will have to do the same activity with a character that isn't as introspective).
We started out this activity describing Holden from the outside, and came up with descriptors like obsessive, troublemaker, violent, etc. but in some of the "autobiographies" I have lines like "I'm not that bad of a kid. I'm really not. I just have some bad luck" and "I'm a terrific guy, really, only I can't concentrate and get kicked out. I am a very suave guy and I am great with ladies." It was interesting to look at how my students describe Holden versus how they think he would describe himself.
And that got me to thinking: how would my characters describe themselves?
Holden is a great character (he's why people read Catcher) and he is a contradiction. Which makes me wonder if all characters should have something contradictory about themselves. If they all should have a blind spot (or two or three) when it comes to how they see themselves versus how readers see them.
And yes, I realize that this is often true of characters already, and I realize that there are writer's tips like "interview your character" that help you get to this point, but I think it would be an interesting exercise for people to write bios of their characters as if it was the character writing an autobiography of themselves.
And I think it might be especially important to do that with antagonists and supporting characters, who are sometimes neglected in the character building process. Yes, your villain is a bad guy, but he probably doesn't think so. And yes, your main character's friend is a funny sidekick with a couple of quirks but who is mostly dependable, but what else is there? What do others see about your characters that the characters themselves don't?
I plan to go through and do this with a couple of my characters tonight, and I'm interested to hear about the results if anyone else decides to do the same.
So, how would your characters describe themselves?