Here is yet another exercise from The Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich, for character description. Too often writers simply tell who their characters are, rather than showing them through description or actions. This exercise calls for the focus to be on the hands of a character, and to show who that character is based on their hands.
By looking at her face, her hair, or the clothes she wears, you wouldn’t guess her income. You’d expect her to be about middle-class. He face is a little strained between the eyebrows, a little wrinkly—but her smile is shining. Her hair is long, but layered to fall nice over her shoulders. Her hands, however, tell you completely different story.
Her nailed are manicured, and done up in what they call “American Nails.” White polish covers the outer tip of her nails, and gives the illusion of them being impeccably clean if not bleached, while clear polish glazes over the whole nail, adding an extra bit of shine. Given the state of her cuticles, it’s obvious this wasn’t the work of any weekend home project or cheap nail salon to be found in a strip mall. Her nails gleam with expertise.
What’s also amazing is the soft-state of her hands. There’s no trace of lotion or moisturizer on her palms or fingertips—her skin is just that soft. The skin isn’t dried out by having to do the dishes, or wash pots and pans. No scent is to be found of dusting from weekend cleaning, no hint of detergent or fabric softener from the laundry. Labor has never touched those hands—at least, not the manual kind of labor that would cause calluses or dry skin. Her veins span like the light ink strokes depicting a delicate tree. The veins are a pale blue under the white of her skin. She wonders why anyone would ever buy things like lotion or hand cream, as she’s never needed it. Her hands never need remedy.
Though she’s unmarried, a bit of decoration adorns her ring finger. The ring itself is a band of pure silver. It’s shaped to wrap around so that its two ends never meet. Instead of clasping each other, the arms of the ring gently hug a line of three small diamonds, which glitter like the pupils of her eyes. It matches the same subtle eloquence as the rest of her appearance. The ring was a little gift she got herself after a promotion, or so she says to those who ask.