Thursday, August 24, 2006


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.)


  1. Anonymous2:26 AM

    I really liked your article. It's witty, light and funny. Personals are always the same but when you do add a little color they become more of an art or literary piece.

  2. Southern woman with large, active family seeks enchanting restaurant in small town atmosphere. Should love coffee and cooking. Should hate drama and gossip. Email Nikki with inquiries.

  3. Space pilot seeks soulmate for a life amongst the stars. I have a big spaceship which goes like the clappers, you have an accounting degree and an easygoing personality. Interstellar navigation experience is essential.

  4. High-flying CEO seeks close companion for hunting trips. Must like danger, be creative and passive or aggressive when required. Human-law breakers considered. Sunset skin and midnight wings preferred. No Shapeshifters and/or Humans. Contact Rachel or Rykiel at Demos Inc.


    Magic nobility seeks same for lost cause against technological superior invaders. God-fearing citizens need not apply. Must be an Avatar with potential to expand career. Law enforcement or war veterans preferred. Contact Master Crafter Jill Van Eagle c/o Fortress Asgard Slave Compound.

  5. Forty-something, myth-busting female with a tendency to attract wyverns and wing-nuts seeks tough detective-inspector with a good watch. Name need not be George but maille a plus.Presently in 12th century, leave message at La Dame dot com.

  6. Anonymous8:22 AM

    Young, water-bound Queen seeks competent, power-disdaining companion eager to have kids - and do most of the parental tasks. Should be a member of the Alliance, in good standing, and be willing to have no real power. Must have no hang-ups over small, cute, blood-drinking mammals. Inquiries should be directed to convicted murderer, Jariath Eyrons - who will also be conducting interviews.

    (Couldn't manage one for the first book, but a personal ad worked perfectly for the second one! *-*)

  7. 7 year old girl seeks knowledge of Adam. Ideally loves number plates and Princess Diana. Must must must keep secrets. Email Jude if you can help.

  8. Male witch seeks to be left alone, completely, on his Montana ranch. He isn't interested in a skinny blonde with a big mouth and he doesn't want to get involved in an unnatural experiments, or become part of a couple. If you are said skinny blonde, please stop reading this and just go away.

  9. Brad's twin seeks Angelina's twin. Recent photos only.

  10. There's an old relationship book on the market called 'Are You The One For Me' that had writing a personal ad as an exercise. It was a pretty interesting experiment if you wanted to analyze the 'types' of people that you dated. Sadly, most woman date the same 'type' of man over and over again. (And no, the book wasn't just for women.)


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