My high school art teacher Ms. Bassnett told me, “If you can draw a hand, you can draw anything.” And so, I spent a lot to time (and paper) doing pencil studies of hands (mostly my own because it was a willing model).
Ever thought about your character’s hands? Studying them, I mean. Hmm. You can tell a lot about a person simply by seeing her hands.Taking a good long look may reveal some intimate info that will transform and three-dimensionalize (a word?) your character for you and your readers.
Start with your main character, but don’t stop there. If a character has a name, she has a past, feelings and preferences, and you need to know them. Otherwise, what you got ’em in your story for?
Now, relax and let your imagination drive. Don’t censor. Hold that hand and see what happens.
- Does your character want you to see his/her hands? Does he sit on them after you ask or present them with pride?
- How do they feel? Warm, cool, rough, calloused, soft, sweaty, puffy, jittery?
- What shade are the hands?
- Is the skin mottled? Freckled? Moley?
- Are the fingers pudgy or long? Knuckles wide or narrow?
- Are the thumbs looped into holes made in the cuffs of the sleeves?
- Do you see bruises, cuts, burn marks or scars?
- Is the hand covered in a lacy glove or a catcher’s mitt?
- Is it stained with juice, paint, ink or some unidentifiable funk?
- Is there orange Cheetos dust on the fingertips?
- Are there tobacco stains between the index and middle finger?
- How’s the wrist look?
- Are you holding your character’s dominant hand? Or is your character ambidextrous?
- What about a stamp on the back of the hand? Where did your character go?
- Do you see Band-Aids? Are they fresh or dirty? Standard variety or Hello Kitty brand?
- Do you see any embellishments–tattoo on the wrist or perhaps a phone number scribbled on the palm?
- What about a ring (or many rings) or perhaps a line around a finger where a ring used to be? Are these big rings intended to impress or intimidate? Are they dainty? Cheap? Pricey?
- What about the finger nails–are they minced to the quick, polished in a demure pink or are they covered in cheap press-on nails with rhinestones? Is there grime under them or are they filed and clean?
- Is one hand in a cast? What happened?
- Are all the fingers there or is one missing? What’s the story there?
Well, my little animal cracker, how was that? Was something new revealed or something suspected confirmed? Do you feel closer to your character or perhaps closer to mapping your plot? Would you try this again with your other character? Thank you for giving this handy exercise a try.
I don’t know where my road is going, but I know that I walk better when I hold your hand. ~ Alfred de Musset