That Look

This blog is part five of six in a series designed to hone character development of protagonists in your fiction.

I once tried to leave the house with bare lips. This did not go over well with my husband.

“Where is your lipstick?” he asked.

I applied some immediately. In red.

Yes, the lipstick has to be red. I can get away with a reddish burgundy shade if it matches my clothing, but only then.

When venturing out alone, I once left the house wearing sparkly gold lipstick with sable lip liner. All the women loved it. When I returned home and my husband saw my new look, he wanted to know what was going on with all the lip liner.

If I were to forget my lipstick when traveling, the situation would be classified as a beauty emergency, meaning an immediate trip to the nearest cosmetics counter. Since this has, ahem, happened, last week when my husband and I went away, he made sure I had packed my lipstick.

Cell phone or lipstick? That, my friend, is the question.


Your turn:

Has your character adopted a certain look? What is it?

Why does your character have this look? How does it make your character stand out or be special?

What do the people in the character’s life think of this look? Are their feelings positive or negative? Why, and does your character care?

What would make your character change this unique look?


Character Development Series:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

28 Responses to That Look

  1. Sami A. Abrams November 15, 2018 at 7:09 am #

    Love this series about characters. It’s really making me think about mine. And by the way, I love that your husband insists on your lipstick. 🙂

  2. Loretta Eidson November 15, 2018 at 7:27 am #

    I must laugh about the lipstick. My husband never comments about mine. But I have to tell you. My mom, before she developed Alzheimer’s, put lipstick on every night before she went to bed. When I asked why, her answer was simply, “If I die during the night, I won’t look dead.” Our family has joked and still laugh about it to this day. She is a character all her own.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 15, 2018 at 9:41 am #

      That is hilarious! Maybe have a minor character do that in honor of your mom.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 15, 2018 at 8:41 am #

    Never left the house without lipstick, but I did go to a job interview barefoot. Couldn’t find my shoes.

    I never gave characters a specific look, mainly because it’s a concept I don’t understand, and thus would fumble badly. I mean, when you’ve got a 50-in chest, a 34-in waist, and stand all of five foot nine, finding something that FITS is really the challenge.

    Thinking back on what I’ve read, though, I’m intrigued by the way ‘the look’ can change. Willie Keith, Herman Wouk’s protagonist in ‘The Caine Mutiny’, began as a typical Princeton boy, thinking himself a musical talent, a bit chubby, and fond of checked jackets and loud ties.

    Later in the midst of his personal crucible aboard the USS Caine, he sees his face in a washbasin mirror, and really looks for the first time in a long time, seeing a lean face and hard eyes, a different creature completely than the piano-playing boy he had been and never would be again.

  4. Cele LeBlanc November 15, 2018 at 9:03 am #

    Thanks for your articles! Great information. For me it is mascara. I try to keep extra lipstick and a tube of mascara in my car except in the hottest summer months.

  5. Carol Ashby November 15, 2018 at 9:57 am #

    I can’t say that I’ve created a special “look” for any of my characters. Some of the characters have scars that have important consequences for the plot, but Roman-era “looks” were fairly narrow and defined by social status. But that still allows playing with how a male character relates to a woman. I’ve had a lot of fun with the male lead in the one I’m about to release. She’s an elegant but plain Roman noblewoman. He’s a Greek sea captain who’s so honest that he’s not very good at choosing his words sometimes, like when he tells her, “Just because you’re not pretty doesn’t mean you’re so plain I thought it would bother you.” She thinks it’s terribly funny when something he says comes out wrong and teases him about it, just like I would.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 15, 2018 at 1:40 pm #

      Yes, I can see that giving an historical character like that a “look” will say more about social status than the character. But what fun with the banter!

    • Jennifer Mugrage November 16, 2018 at 8:08 pm #

      Oh, no, Captain Theophilus! Those are inside words!

  6. Claire O'Sullivan November 15, 2018 at 12:42 pm #

    oh, how I love these responses! Thanks, Tamela, as always a fun post.

    My MC has long hair, straight with a slight curl. She goes on an espresso binge, gets drizzled on, and in the morning sees herself in a mirror. What a fright! It’s an Alfred Hitchcock movie in the making, birds and objects might be buried in a sea of ‘more than the usual’ unruly frizz.

    Living in a rainy state brings her into the constant battle with the hair from a 1970s massive Afro to more or less, tamed.

    Now mine – over the years has been FLAT and never a curl. As the gray hairs emerge, so does the independent streak of my hair to do whatever it wants on whatever day. Sometimes curly, sometimes not. Sometimes curly on one side, and the other, not. Products? No help. It’s maddening.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 15, 2018 at 1:41 pm #

      I can see the character now!

      Hmmmm, braids can work!

    • Carol Ashby November 15, 2018 at 3:00 pm #

      You could relocate her in the desert Southwest, and then she’d be trying to get some of the body that frizz gives back.

      • claire o'sullivan November 15, 2018 at 3:46 pm #

        ha ha!!

        probably but I think it would be an easier job of taming and fluffing it.

        she’s constantly got bed head or attack of the frizz. It lends some humor to otherwise dramatic scenes.

  7. claire o'sullivan November 15, 2018 at 1:52 pm #


    Her love interest has to describe her to a cop. He goes into some detail, approximate weight, height, age, how her hair gets frizzy, that her eyes are brown (to which the amused cop asks are we talking milk chocolate, Godiva chocolate, espresso…?) and love interest adds her personality is ‘like crawling over barbed wire in boxers. And don’t even get me started on espresso.’

  8. claire o'sullivan November 15, 2018 at 1:54 pm #


    Her love interest has to describe her to a cop. He goes into some detail, approximate weight, height, age, gets distracted and says how her hair gets frizzy, that her eyes are brown (to which the amused cop asks are we talking milk chocolate, Godiva chocolate, espresso…?) and love interest adds her personality is ‘like crawling over barbed wire in boxers. And don’t even get me started on espresso.’

  9. claire o'sullivan November 15, 2018 at 1:55 pm #

    oops Pete Repeat…

  10. Angela Carlisle November 15, 2018 at 9:24 pm #

    One of my main characters was relocated from Texas in her teen years and always wears a signature pair of boots. She now runs an old west style shop, so her clothing preferences double as a work uniform. She’s not really the type to care whether anyone notices her look.
    One of my other characters has a bright, bubbly personality and chooses outfits that come as close to clashing as possible without actually doing so. Definitely not a look everyone could pull off, but she likes it and is amused when anyone comments on it.

  11. Jennifer Mugrage November 16, 2018 at 7:32 am #

    I don’t talk about looks much in terms of fashion. For one thing, my setting is 10,000 BC. For another, it’s post-apocalyptic, so the characters have to go from being linen-wearing city dwellers to re-inventing the … Animal skin.

    I do try to slip in references to the way they look, however. I see them vividly in my mind, and bits of description help the reader track characters in an ensemble cast.

    My problem is that I tend to keep picturing them the way they were at the very beginning of the book … Before this one grew a beard, before that one lost an eye.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 16, 2018 at 7:34 am #

      Ha ha! Your readers may picture them that way, too, though it won’t matter since they are free to do as they please!

    • claire o'sullivan November 16, 2018 at 10:47 am #

      Now, this is both funny and challenging!

  12. Joey Rudder November 16, 2018 at 11:38 am #

    I’m a mascara girl myself since without it I look like I’m falling asleep! 😉

    For my main character, I’d like to expand on her crazy curly hair and what she’s doing to tame it. For the others, dangling earrings and REALLY old glasses that “still work” are a few I’m using. Again, so much room to expand to get a clearer photograph of each. 🙂

    Thank you for this post, Tamela. (I’m sad there’s only going to be one more in this series.) Blessings to you!

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