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Memoir “The Tender Bar” inspires unique character descriptions

“The Tender Bar,” tops my list of favorite memoirs, not only because of the voice and emotional pull of the story, but for how it inspired me to think more creatively about character description in my own writing.

J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote The Tender Bar about growing up without a father but with the guidance of his Uncle Charlie and a group of other men at their neighborhood bar who filled in as father figures.

Here’s how Moehringer uses cultural icons to describe Joey D, one of the men from the bar:

“…a giant with a tuft of gingery hair atop his spongy orange head, and features glued to the head at odd angles. He seemed to be made of spare parts from different Muppets, like a Sesame Street Frankenstein — head of Grover, face of Oscar, thorax of Big Bird.”

Moehringer goes on to write: “Though hulking and slouch-shouldered, Joey D had the manic energy of a small man. He speed walked, fluttered his hands, spoke in word spasms that left him winded. Like hay fever sneezes, whole sentences exploded from his mouth in one burst: Ocean’sgoingtoberoughtoday!”

Moehringer’s Uncle Charlie and his friends take J.R. on outings to the beach and baseball games, serving as mentors and male role models. Moehringer compares one man named Colt to a celebrity to help readers form a mental picture.

“From a side door emerged a man about ten years younger than Uncle Charlie, with shiny black hair and droopy black eyes. Solidly built, with broad shoulders and a deep chest, he looked like a young Dean Martin.” Moehringer goes on to offer an auditory cue in his description of Colt, by describing his voice as sounding like cartoon character Yogi Bear.

The images of Sesame Street and cartoon characters fit how the author would have seen the men — through the lens of the TV shows he watched — as a 7-year-old boy.

And then there was Bobo. “He oozed the smell of last night’s whiskey, a scent I liked, though Bobo tried to cover it up with a quart of drugstore aftershave.”

As I write and revise, I like to revisit the creative possibilities inspired by other writers.

For more inspiration, read my observations of Truman Capote’s character description in “The Christmas Memory.”

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