If you go for the Gerber baby type, I come from a family of very cute babies. For a variety of reasons, it’s not something the relatives comment on, which, blissfully—perhaps especially for a girl—meant a youth engaged in action, not image. The grandparents and aunts and parents talked up deeds (working hard, tucking in your shirt) rather than genetic inheritance (being tall or smart, having a marketable ratio of long-twitch to short-twitch muscle), and largely they were successful. I only learned how to do makeup after being in community theater, and after meeting someone, I can far more readily tell you, say, their stand on gender roles than their eye color.
My family’s efforts didn’t mean we were never judged on our appearance, of course. A woman told my grandmother what a darling child I was, and then heaved a big sigh and said, “If only she had blue eyes.” (As a four-year-old, I thought this statement was ridiculous; how on earth would I have anything but my eyes?) I got a job outright on my looks once: when I lived in Japan, a man chased me down shouting “California girl! California girl!” He wanted me to offer grapefruit samples to the customers at a high-end supermarket. I was kitted out with a red-and-white striped apron and I got to eat lunch in the staff cafeteria; this is why I know how to say “Don’t worry, it’s not sour” in Japanese.
Perhaps the family training is why my early drafts have very little description in them. It’s not the first thing I think about, usually, when I’m getting engaged with a story idea. It certainly hasn’t been a plot point, but a moment of what I thought was Divaliciousness may be just that.
I’m messing around with another novel idea. The hero of this one was a secondary character in my NaNo project, so he’s familiar to me, and the heroine is an archeologist or a geologist or a geologist disguised as an archeologist—haven’t gotten that far into the mystery yet to figure it out—but at some point they have to escape from Turkey. This will be difficult in part because they are both blond, and I spent some amount of time stomping around the other day trying to figure out how they could pull this off, and why. Why couldn’t I just make them dark-haired, if it was giving me such trouble? I haven’t written a word of this thing; I hardly have an outline.
I don’t know, that’s why. Because I can’t.
At some point in the stomp it was time to take a bath, and it hit me. Gaspard, this blond hero, is a child of immigrants to France, and had a tough time as a child. This I already knew from NaNo. Now I realized that sometimes being blond was, he felt, the one characteristic that made him like the natives; it was his ticket to move up and out. So when this badge has to be hidden, it’s going to be a pang.
I don’t know how or even if any of that is going to show up in the novel. But the hair color has now become part of who Gaspard is, not just a convenient bit of data. It’ll help me build a coherent personality for him as I continue the story.