Page 11 of Room to Write gives us some practice in developing character description. Certainly, in creating our characters, they are not necessarily people that we know in real life. We might incorporate aspects of real people into our envisioning of them, but the remainder may lie sheerly in our imagination. To ensure that we are offering the proper level of description to these characters, then, today we are to have a go at describing someone we already know–either closely or arm’s-length–with whom we have regular contact.
This will be an exercise in discovering what it is we actually notice about people first. I’m sure you’ve taken a personality quiz at some point that profiles you based on what you notice first when you look at someone (e.g., eyes, teeth, hair, etc.), and this will be similar, just taking it to another descriptive level. In identifying what it is that we automatically look to in a person, we will identify what it is that we automatically describe in a character.
Chances are, we’re limiting our characters in some way. So, after I write this, I’m going to reflect on not only what I did write about but also what I didn’t.
His eyes are blue, though I still sometimes question if they’re at all green…must depend on the lighting or what he’s wearing. It isn’t a crystal, cold, icy blue, but a muted, soft one that I’d feel comfortable dipping a toe in, then submerging into fully. They’re kind eyes that don’t penetrate with menace or even cloud over in sorrow, but they surely twinkle when he’s happy. They’re eyes that I can see looking exactly the same, with the same good humor, when looking out of a far more aged face. His face now, though, is young, though showing the lines of maturity, of laughing, of squinting in the rays of the sun or the gleaming fresh powder of a snowy mountain. His skin is sensitive to dryness in the air and wind-burn when rushing down the slopes or bouncing along the pavement. It will redden then flake, so he moisturizes it often. Left to its own devices in the absence of the natural elements, it is fair skin to go with his fair hair and fluffy fair eyebrows. His blond is more sandy, darker in the winter months when shielded from the sun’s bleaching effects, and becoming increasingly peppered with grey on the sides, which is giving him that handsome, distinguished presence that befalls all lucky men who retain their hair and physique, the fellows like Cary Grant and Sean Connery who only get better with age like a fine wine. He’s a man who can wear a beard and not look unkempt; the whiskers grow in dark and give a tanned shadow to his fair skin and protect it from the irritation of the daily shave, though it is only on holiday when he’ll let it grow this way. Otherwise, he’s the clean-shaven type, keeping his hair trimmed close to his neck in the back and parted neatly at the top, though in casual circumstances will lightly gel it into a more naturally tousled look. Even when casual, however, he’ll wear a buttoned shirt and leather loafers, with denims or khakis in between. He’ll smarten up a day of air travel with a wool blazer, and every day at the office sets that bar high with his well-tailored suits and the rainbow’s spectrum of Charles Tyrwhitt shirts accented with cufflinks and ties of unexpected patterns and hues. His answer to the proverbial male-profiling question is undisputedly “boxers,” and his socks have found new voice through multi-colored stripes. He’s a man who does not need his wife to dress him in the morning.
Okay, so that’s my first pass on describing a real, living, breathing human being in my life. What are the things I noticed first in my mind’s eye?
– Eyes (from their color to how they reflect the temperament behind them)
– Skin (its physical description, including external influences that portray one of the man’s favorite hobbies–skiing, running, and, apparently, moisturizing)
– Hair (primarily physical description, which to extent reflects personality)
– Clothing (again, physical description that may reveal underlying personality)
So what didn’t I describe, then, that I could have?
– what his smile looks like
– body physique
– the way his body moves
– what his voice sounds like
– how he smells
– what he feels like
– nervous habits
– ANY habits–the way he behaves in different circumstances
– sense of humor and other personality traits
See anything that I’m missing? Please list in your comments if so. More importantly, give this a try yourself!