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Black Hair, Grey Eyes

July 24, 2012

Have you ever done those character profiles they give you for novel planning?

All those empty boxes–hair color, height, weight, scars, eye color, hobbies– used to leave me at a loss for words. How am I supposed to know how much my characters weigh? I don’t even know how much my coworkers weigh, and I see them every day! I don’t know if my character has a scar—I haven’t seen him naked yet! I haven’t spent enough time with him yet to know what his hobbies are!

How could I possibly know all this about a character when I haven’t written him yet?

So, I wrote him. Nick Moore is the main character in my revision-in-progress, ‘The Tempest’s Serenade,’ and here’s some of what I got:

Nicholas Dylan Aronsen Moore is blessed with a physique that balances square shoulders and a strong jaw line, but it is his eyes that draw you in. If you’re unsure of your intentions his stormy stare will make you shiver, because those slate-grey eyes don’t tolerate deception. Give them the truth they crave, and you’ll be rewarded with redemption.

Dark hair veils his classic features in what seems like its never-ending quest to cover those lovely eyes and sharp nose. He hides his face, keeping his reflections to himself, and allowing them instead to pour forth from his fingers as songs on his guitar. He wears an unassuming array of black t-shirts with various dark sentiments printed upon them, alternating brand names of his favorite musical equipment with the logos of vintage rock and roll bands.

When he’s not playing his guitar, he sits very still, as if waiting for the wind to tell him its intentions, always listening for the melody inside his head.

“What? I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening,” he will ask politely if I ask a question of him. Someday I want to eavesdrop on the symphony the surely plays behind those eyes. 

His voice is authoritative, but quiet, unwavering. His words come from deep in his soul as he speaks his truth. He demands that you answer without hesitation. If you’ve been where he has, you have no patience for head games.

His hands are rarely motionless. If he must hold them still, he hides them in his pockets, trapping them like mischievous rodents that need to be kept caged to stay out of trouble. When his fingers tire of the fretboard, the cigarettes keep his hands employed, as the lighting of the flame, the twist of the burning cigarette to deposit its ashes, and the quenching of the sputtering embers, conspire to hasten his inexorable destruction.

When he touches you, he does so lightly at first, letting his fingertips explore your skin, shrinking from your heat, afraid he might draw it out of you by touching you too deeply. Once he has confidence his touch won’t hurt you, he lets his hands grasp you firmly, like a drowning man would grab a life ring with no intention of letting go until he reaches the shore.

He doesn’t wear jewelry, and has no piercings. All that metal holds no interest for him. He doesn’t wear a watch since he’s not bound to a schedule. Morning is when the sun comes up, and nights last until his eyes fall closed with exhaustion. Many times he’s fallen asleep with his guitar on his lap, his arms stretched across it as if around the waist of a sleepy child. When he wakes, he picks up where he left off, and with weary fingers, plays the melody his soul spun while he slept.

He smiles easily when he’s around his many friends, but to find him alone when he thinks no one is watching is to see who he really is. Melancholy, vigilant, pensive. The smile is his defense against the past that plagues him. He doesn’t hide from himself, but hopes to conceal his dark secret from the world, to spare it the trouble.

Now, at last, I can fill in those empty boxes!

Hair: Black

Eyes: Grey

Hobbies: Music

Philosophy: I’m living on borrowed time. Let’s make it count.

How do you come upon your character’s physical attributes? Do you have to write your characters first? Or can you fill in those character profiles like a police detective with a hot lead on a suspect?

  1. July 24, 2012 9:13 pm

    To me, the eyes begin the evolution of my characters, and I see my main characters in my own reflection. Of course, my bathroom mirror doesn’t do justice to the gorgeous, hideous, or astounding people in my mind, but I see their expressions clearly.

    My secondary characters take shape on paper as I fill out a character profile. I get so enamoured of my main folks, I need reminders of everyone elses’ looks, likes, and loves. Honestly, I never thought I’d use character profiles, but they help alot!

    • July 25, 2012 8:15 pm

      Very cool, how you see your characters’ eyes first. It gave me chills to read in fact!
      I’ve found the character profiles to be a lifesaver in revision, as having a reference to get things right this time through is critical.
      I’m hoping I can learn to use profiles better in first draft. 🙂

  2. July 24, 2012 10:25 pm

    I have a general vision of my characters, based upon the story type I am working on. And refine it a little usually from something I have seen in a picture somewhere. Lots of times I have a general idea from the story line, such as my current WIP has sort of a Welsh-ish background so I look at pictures of people with supposedly pure Welsh characteristics and from that get a better idea of the characters — then I start filling in more details with personality traits. Two of the main characters in this WIP are twins (brother & sister), but I needed something to make outcasts so I came up with red hair and green eyes (the signs of evil — at least in their world, but actually based on Medieval facts). Still working on descriptions, but to see the eyes look at this link. It is a friend of mine who is an artist and he is working on the characters and a cover for me.

    So I start with a general idea, but then flush it out as I write the story and get a better feel for the characters. Many times I have only a VERY rough outline of what they look like to start with. Minor characters I create on the fly, but don’t flush them out very much unless they have more than passing relevance.

    • July 25, 2012 8:20 pm

      I didn’t know that red hair and green eyes were considered signs of evil! I like how the characters appearance already creates a source of conflict for them–not so good for them, but great story material. 😉
      One of my favorite things about writing has to be when characters become more and more real in my imagination as I write them.

  3. July 25, 2012 11:25 am

    Sometimes it seems silly to know all these details about your characters, but the truth is, most of that stuff will never make it into the story…but if YOU, the WRITER knows of these traits, somehow, in the course of the writing, the character(s) will wind up being more developed. So it doesn’t hurt to know their weights!

    I usually write a synopsis of my characters before I place them into the stories. However, there are those rare gems that just show up unexpectedly. Those are the best.

    I try to focus on what my characters want, need, and desire. In other words, what is driving them? When I know their underlying motivations, the things they do, say, etc. tends to take care of itself.

    Great question. Great post.

    • July 25, 2012 8:25 pm

      Hi Katherine!
      Thanks for stopping by A Scenic Route. 🙂

      I like how you put this, and it gave me something to think about. When I’m writing I tend to reside inside the characters’ heads, and see what they see. Maybe that’s why I have to tease these details out one by one as I encounter them.
      I agree, it’s time I put my characters on that bathroom scale, and measure how tall they are while I’m at it. I never know when that will come in handy!

  4. July 25, 2012 3:40 pm

    I have to write my characters first and then their looks come to me . . . then I feel in those character grids to keep straight who says what sayings often and what their eye color is, ect . . .

    • July 25, 2012 8:28 pm

      Then you write much like I do. 🙂
      My character grids are so much easier to fill in once I’ve finished my story!

  5. July 29, 2012 10:19 am

    There are occasions where I’ll sit down and flesh out a character before writing a story. Less often do I flesh out a character without a story at all. The times when a character calls to me and begs me to write out their biography, I’ll finish it and put it away, until it’s time to give the character the lime light.

    Some writers find it easiest to sit down and flesh out their main characters before they begin writing. Other writers enjoy the following of a story without knowing a thing, which allows their characters to speak volumes about themselves. Though knowing very little to nothing about your characters may introduce awkward moments and contradictions in the story, it helps to give a sense of realism since many real world people are walking awkward moments and contradictions in themselves.

    There is a variety of paths that a writer can walk in order to reach the same destination. Which one works best for a single writer? Only the writer can answer.

    • July 29, 2012 10:01 pm

      Interesting thoughts!
      To me, it feels as if the characters ‘ask’ to be written because they have a story. In other words, the story and the character are part of the complete package, and one doesn’t exist without the other. In fact, I could think of them as if they are part of a continuum where the story changes the character, and the character in turn affects his story world by his actions.

      Now, look what you’ve done, you’ve helped me recast my thinking on the whole story creation process! 😉

      I’m glad you stopped by A Scenic Route, C.A. !

      • July 29, 2012 10:12 pm

        I am glad that I could help. Sometimes, it’s best to sit back and ask questions rather than simply scowl and demand answers.

        • July 29, 2012 10:21 pm

          Sounds like a good way to handle. I, on the other hand, feel like I put my characters through something like Chinese Water Torture as I interrogate them. Though if you read any of my blogs and knew Willow (my muse) you would understand – she is rather blunt at times :0)

          • July 29, 2012 10:26 pm

            Chinese Water Torture has been known to cause insanity before the victim pleads for death. Though it’s often a useful method of obtaining answers, no one can be certain that the answers are honest. Be sure to further interrogate for truthfulness of the answers given.

            There are many methods which reveal answers. Which ever works best for you is likely the best to use.

            • July 29, 2012 10:50 pm

              Well insanity isn’t really an issue ;0) These characters would need to be a little crazy to want to be in my book in the first place (JK). Actually I interrogate them only a little (no torture) and then I sit them down with a glass of wine. They are so happy they tell me everything. It is a give and take. I give them a little of me (or what I wish for) and they give me some insight into themselves.

              • August 30, 2012 9:06 pm

                I just found this little conversation here. You guys totally crack me up! 🙂

  6. April 21, 2013 10:55 pm

    For me, originally, I started out with these profiles for written role-plays. I’d fill them out and then see the character. Now, though, it is the other way around. I envision the character first, full fledged and in all their glory. Then I put those facts onto the profile questions. As I do, I close my eyes – or not while I’m typing 😀 – and conjure up their image as I need to. Sometimes I’ll find a doll maker game on the internet that closely makes what I see in my head and then flesh it out from their, but that’s rare. I’ve now come to the technique of interviews, or what I call “conversations” with my characters and meet them that way. One great example for learning of a minor character, I asked her point blank. In her own words she gave me her back story, one that led me to tears as I heard the fear in her voice, could see the images she saw, feel what she felt. It was powerful and all of it was hidden behind a beautiful face that belonged to a ravaged fairy. I don’t mind sharing if you’d like to see.

    • April 22, 2013 9:30 pm

      Wow, that sounds amazing!
      That’s pretty much exactly how I get to know my characters. Sometimes I’ll see just a bit of their clothing, a raised eyebrow, or hear a few words. Once all I saw was a bicep! But from there, I start to drag them onto the page, sketching them as I watch them come to life. It’s absolutely my favorite part of writing.
      I’d love to see your character interview–in fact, it might make a great blog post! 😉

      • April 23, 2013 11:06 am

        I’ve been planning on redoing my blog. I may be able to get to it soon. I’ll then put it up. 😀

        • April 24, 2013 9:22 pm

          That would be awesome! I’ll look forward to checking it out. 🙂


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