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Thursday, July 17, 2014

What Does Hair Have to do with Suspense?

Hair seemed to have a running theme in my life last week.

I suppose I am from the "old school" because I never thought anything of making myself presentable each and every morning. It made no difference whether I planned to go out or stay in; it was just something ingrained in me from an early age.

However, I came across a lady who complained about her hair to me. She said she had to "fix it" every day, and she hated it for that reason.

Later in the same week, I was having lunch in a nice restaurant when I noticed the lady's hair at the next table was in dire need of washing. It was one of those times when I felt like I was watching a train wreck; I knew I should look away but I couldn't. Her black hair was sprinkled with what looked like lint; it was not only on top of the hair but obviously under the surface as well.

So what does this have to do with suspense?

I realized as I contemplated all of this (yes, I am a deep thinker) that when authors develop characters for their books, they often assume certain things. In the case of hair, I assumed that everyone had the same commitment to looking presentable as I did, or that no one resented the time spent in making themselves presentable.

But I realized that each of us is unique, and our characters should represent that. The two people I encountered provided inspiration. What type of character would go to a nice restaurant with hair littered with lint? Perhaps it's someone who doesn't care to spend time on hygiene. Or perhaps it's a caretaker for an elderly parent, a disabled child, or someone who can't take five minutes out of the day for themselves. Maybe it's someone who just lost their home to a tornado or hurricane, or a homeless person being treated to a decent meal by a Good Samaritan.

Then there are the people who hate their hair. It's thinning. Or it's too thick. It frizzes in high humidity. Or it goes limp. It's lifeless, or it has a life of its own.

Hair is just one element in describing a character but the image of that character can be changed in just a short phrase.

Can you think of other physical characteristics that would change your mental image of a character?