Black Hair, Grey Eyes

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?

Feedback: Fuel for my Creative Fire

In my quest to banish self-doubt it is once again time to join my fellow intrepid writers for a monthly expedition into my deepest fears. We call ourselves the Insecure Writer’s Support Group and are led by the fearless and inspirational Alex J. Cavanaugh.

If you’d like to join the fun, hop on over to the linky. We post the first Wednesday of every month, and it’s a fabulous group of writers.

This month I really felt that I’d made some real progress in this area.

One of my biggest obstacles in my writing has always been sharing my work with others, both fellow writers and regular folks in general. I can trace this back to unsupportive family, incredulous friends, and most of all, my own negative self-talk. This month, however, I did something concrete to turn this around.

Insecure Writers behold: Gaze with awe and wonder upon this screenshot, depicting the latest small step in my battle against insecurity.

What is it you ask?

This is my story, ‘The Tempest’s Serenade’, in a private queue awaiting critique, and having already received several critiques by some of my favorite writers.

I have been a member of Critique Circle for about a year and a half already. Until the beginning of last month, I had only submitted a grand total of three stories. Each time I did, it was a harrowing experience for me. I would spend days and days going over each piece in great detail, making sure each word was exactly the right one, and that each sentence was a different in structure from the last. I would agonize over character descriptions, and throw up my hands in disgust over big blocks of narrative that I knew were pure ‘telling’, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to transform into ‘showing.’ I would scrutinize each plot point. I would ask myself, “Did I end the chapter in the right place? Do my characters feel natural and realistic? Is the setting consistent?”

Completely overwhelmed but determined to overcome this obstacle, I spent the night before each story went up for review tossing and turning, certain that my spaghetti sentences and raw dialogue meatballs would be met with polite rejection. Then, after getting no critiques at all for my nonsensical drivel, perhaps one brave soul would take on my story, and, in the kindest possible way, tell me to please stop writing, and take up something useful, like making my own peanut butter, or knitting socks for my cat.

I have to confess, I had this whole post almost ready to go, when I deleted the second half of it.

I had written all about how these great critiques have added fuel to my creative fire, and how I had finally overcome the fire-breathing dragon that stood between me and novel revision greatness.

Then, a nudge from one of my favorite critiquers asking me when my next chapter was going to post gave me that all too familiar knot in my stomach.

Oh. Wait.

I have to post more stories?

My battle to overcome self-doubt continues.

At Critique Circle a particularly tough-minded bunch of writers have organized into an elite group of critiquers known as the Thick Skin Club. They have declared that because they seek honest feedback, they promise not to take offense at any comments that might be misconstrued as hurtful. I have great admiration for their valor, and am also desirous of honest feedback, however I am certain that the Thick Skin Club would take one look at the quivering mess of my ego, and slam the door in my face.

I’m a much better fit over here at the Insecure Writer’s Support Group!

Anyway.

Why is it, in spite of seeing great benefits and enjoying a positive response, that sharing my work makes my heart race and hands sweat?

Is it because I want no less than perfection, and will never, no matter how hard I work, achieve it?

Is it because I care about this deeply, and rejection would cut me to my core?

Probably all these things, but with the Insecure Writers by my side, I am determined to persevere anyway.

Does getting feedback on your writing make you nervous? How have critiques helped move your writing forward, and fueled your creative fire? Do you think you’ll ever be a member of the Thick Skin Club?