Madonna got me interested in the creative application of personal ads in her very funny film Desperately Seeking Susan. I loved how the screenwriter used the personals as a characterization device and an ongoing thread in the story. Now there's even a book about the best and worst personal ads of all time: Laura Schaefer's Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor (my own favorite personal ad to date is Michael Kelly's hilarious Free Competition: Win My Hand in Marriage.)
Writing a personal ad for yourself might be authentic torture, but creating one for your protagonist can help you get in touch with who they are and what they want, aka that stuff you need for outlines, proposals and pitches. To borrow and paraphrase some tips from Linnea Sheldon's excellent article on how to write an online personal ad:
-- Know what your protagonist is looking for
-- Know what qualities your protagonist brings to a relationship
-- Think about what makes your protagonist unique and appealing.
-- Know what hobby, passion or activity occupies a large amount of your protagonist's time.
-- Be honest about who your protagonist is and what they want.
and, oh, if only I could tattoo this on a few inner eyelids:
-- Write in a style that naturally resembles your spoken word, not in a style in which you think you should write.
Here's one of mine:
Old but rich Frenchman with great personality seeks nimble plastic surgeon who is not hung up on looks. If you don't find me, I'll abduct you. R.S.V.P. M. Cyprien, La Fontaine, New Orleans.
Protagonist personal ads don't have to be about finding romantic partners, either:
Short shire boy seeks hot, deep type to accept his ring and complete the quest of a lifetime. Must be okay with fairies, elves, dwarves, and excessively hairy feet. Reply with directions to J.R.R. Tolkien. No orcs, please.
Southern tomboy wishes to meet recluse or shut-in. Should like overalls, boys, scuppernogs and small town crackshot lawyers. Platonist philosophies a big plus. Respond soonest to Scout c/o Harper Lee (use tree hollow if convenient.)
Young British schoolboy, robust, glasses, minor breathing problem, looking for someone to rescue me before things turn savage. Shelter-building and food-gathering skills appreciated. Send message in a bottle to W. Golding. Rule breakers need not apply.
How would your protagonist's personal ad go? (if you're not sure, try to write up one for the protagonist of your favorite keeper novel.)