I often wonder what I really look like… yes, I know I can look in the mirror, and yes, I have photos of me and in some of them I look ridiculous and in some I look quite nice, and I have seen videos of me, so I could describe myself to someone… but that doesn’t really let me objectively see myself.
When I think back to my life, what does the person I’m thinking about look like? I know I have dark hair and dark eyes and brows, I know I am shorter than I think I am, and probably not as sturdy as I think I am, but what impression did I give to people I knew me, how did I stand or sit or look at people and things, or not look at people or things. Sometimes people have misinterpreted my expression, quite often people thought I was unhappy, but really, I wasn’t… I guess in repose my face must look sad. Sometimes people have thought I was being silly… understandable really because quite often I am, but sometimes just my expression was silly and really I was being serious.
I’ve been thinking about this because as a writer I need to have an image of ‘my people’ in my head, and if the story is being told from the point of view of one character, whether it is a first or third person narrative, I need to let my readers know what the ‘me’ in the story looks like. In one of my stories ‘The Double Act’ the main narrator in the first part is Genet, so to let the reader know who she is I let her look in he mirror at herself fairly early on so that the reader has an image of her; this however only gives her main features, pale, freckled skin, grey eyes, red hair.
A few chapters in, the point of view slips, just for a few sentences to someone else. In the second part of the book, he becomes the focal character, but this is how he sees Genet in those early chapters:
her wide welcoming, happy smile was the first one he’d seen from her. Her face was alive, her clear grey eyes bright, and despite the pink nose and cheeks, despite the hair, darkened to copper and plastered to her pale skin, she was so beautiful.
Genet would never describe herself as beautiful, but the reader needs to know she is so she is.
In my most recent novel, ‘Radwinter’, the story is told in the first person by Thomas and he describes himself in the opening paragraphs:
My name is Thomas Radwinter; I’m just really ordinary, and nobody would really notice me… I’m about five foot ten… well, maybe five foot nine, reddy-brown hair, and hazel eyes. I’ve grown a beard because everyone said I was baby-faced and when you’re thirty-two and look like a giant baby it’s a bit ridiculous.
Later on he says:
Rebecca told me I just look like a bundle of clothes, well, a fat bundle of clothes she said to be precise. Considering she buys all my things that’s hardly my fault… but she says I’m fat so maybe that’s my fault…
I hope this gives the reader the same image I have of Thomas, but who knows how he will really be pictured… I have enough difficulty picturing myself!
Radwinter is available as an e-book on Amazon