Physical Characteristics

Outtake 369


Physical Characteristics

By Cait Collins



A few years ago, I had the honor of meeting Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Michael Cunningham.  He was a speaker at my first writers’ conference. I was enrolled in his advanced novel writing class and looked forward to hearing his lectures. He was not the standard speaker extolling his accomplishments. Instead, Michael gave us an assignment. We had fifteen minutes to list twenty physical characteristics of your protagonist.  The list could include physical attributes as well as manner of dress, and smells. And when we had the list completed, we were to write the opening paragraph of the novel and incorporate at least six of the characteristics in that paragraph.

Here goes:

Ageless            long, white blonde hair        tall       slender                        piercing blue eyes

Gold wire-rimmed metal glasses        long, slender fingers   musician’s hands        a pipe stem peeping from the jacket pocket     a brown tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbow

Smelled of apple wood pipe tobacco   pressed dark blue denim jeans          large, blood red ruby ring on the ring finger of his right hand       black leather belt      patrician nosehigh cheek bones         English oak walking stick with a wide gold band at the bottom and a dragon-head handle 

Dark wool muffler      slight limp      high cheek bones         linen handkerchief in left breast pocket           voice of authority

He stood in the doorway. Piercing blue eyes searched the room lingering on the faces of the women in the crowded lecture hall. He appeared ageless. Was he forty or four hundred? White blonde hair fell below his shoulders. He limped toward the lectern at the front of the room.  Facing the audience, he spoke. The voices of the ages filled the room as he told stories of Glastonbury, Tintagel, and the days of Camelot. The authority in his words called to some and ignored others. The sparkle of the blood red ruby on the ring finger of his right hand hypnotized the woman sitting in the last seat on the third row.

“Daughter of King Arthur, it is time.”

Copper tresses gleamed and emerald eyes stared into the beloved face. “Merlin,” she whispered.

I loved every minute of Michael Cunningham’s lectures.

Leave us a word

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s