I'm surprised at how little thought I give to what the people in my stories look like. I always include hair color, eye color, and basic build, plus maybe a dimple or a scar or a slight limp so the reader make them look however they want. This is the reason I'm happiest when my books don't have people on their covers, or at least, as in the case of
One More Summer, people but no faces.
Realizing this made me wonder how I could know the people so completely without being able to see them completely. The conclusion I reached is that I feel them to such an extent that having only an abstract idea of their looks is enough.
Honestly, I don't know how to get the point of this post across, so please bear with me. My heroines are never schoolteachers, but watching teachers with students makes me know expressions I want to see and touches I want to describe. Yesterday, Duane and I sat on the couch together and watched an episode of something goofy on TV and literally laughed until we cried. That laugh and the feel of his warmth against me--those are things I want to write. To feel.
We watched The Waltons for years--still do sometimes. Ralph Waite, the patriarch after
Will Geer died, passed away the other day. Mr. Waite was handsome, I think, but it wasn't his looks I see clearly when I think of him as John Walton. It's his voice with roughness dancing through it, the way he held someone's gaze, the love that never faltered for Olivia and the seven little Waltons, the sense of responsibility that he never turned his back on. That is the hero I feel, even though the edges are blurred when I see him.
The sense of loss that came with his passing was immense. His portrayal of one of my heroes was such that I'll never forget him. What a gift he gave to so many of us, that feeling of rough gentleness, forthrightness, responsibility, and love.
He said, as Ralph Waite and not John Walton, "A self-centered, selfish life is not one worth living. One of service is essential. Taking some responsibility for myself and for my life, trying to be loving to those around me, those are the things that mean the most to me as the years have gone by."
This is what a hero looks like. I can feel it--I don't have to see it.