When you first meet someone,
what makes that person memorable?
I met a woman this morning. At the bank.
I stood in line. She sat in a chair, off to the side,
waiting for assistance.
She wore a beautiful black felt hat, its curve soft,
with a small buckle tucked to the side of the black ribbon
wound round the hat’s base.
(The hat caught my eye.)
Then I saw her white hair, waves set with care,
flowing to frame her face.
Then her glasses, petite and silver-rimmed,
and her eyes, smiling in half-almond arcs beneath.
Then her scarf, flowers wound in loose layers of silk
falling down to her hands, folded, in black leather gloves.
I smiled back. “What a beautiful hat,” I said.
“Thank you.” Her words were measured,
her tone as one cultured, with a slight Asian accent.
“It keeps me warm.” She paused, lips pressed,
her grey eyes looking straight into mine in a way that didn’t carry threat.
“I have Parkinson’s. A coat is difficult. So a hat is necessary.”
It’s then that I noticed: she didn’t wear a coat.
Instead, she wore a thick sweater.
(I could only imagine the physical struggles she faced.)
“Well,” I said, “it is beautiful.”
With a smile that made more wrinkles, she closed her eyes and leaned with a slight nod forward, as if to honor me.
(It’s I who should honor her.)
The hat made an impression. But the way she responded, in her words and actions, told me so much more. I wanted to ask her to join me for cup of tea or coffee and hear her life story. I suspect I’d find a woman of grace, through joy and pain.
In the book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell says that our first impression is a true one.
Your character intro (the first time we meet a character on the page) is critical.
A student asked me this week, how do I create a character introduction that’s really great? My answer: Check out successful authors’ works. Study the first time a character walks onto the page. Some authors have a pattern, a formula (check out Rick Riordan’s character intros for this).
And there’s more.
As with the woman in the bank, look. Really pay attention.
(Write in the hat. And see beneath the hat.)
Oh, that we could all see beneath the hat.