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?