Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Behind the Scenes #2: Let's Talk Hair

I've never been one for blond hair. I grew tired long ago of the stereotypical heroine/hero with the luscious golden locks in traditional fairy tales and as the main character in kids' cartoon series. The blond guys and girls were everywhere! You knew when you reached their description or saw them for the first time that they were destined to be the protagonist. You also knew they'd be extremely kind to children, animals, and old people; full of spirit; ready for adventure; would be the ones to advise and gently chide their sidekicks; and would come through the story still looking beautiful.

A nice standard but very boring when everyone used it. And ... in real life, I knew blond people came in different personalities. Many of the places I moved to had large groups of fair haired denizens. Being blond was common, so why did it have to designate power and attractiveness in stories? I took pride in never using a blond haired person as a protagonist in my stories.

So what was I to do when I dreamed up the story of my novel Trefury and in the dream both POV characters were blond? They wouldn't be the same if I altered how I imagined them. Childish prejudices aside, I had to talk myself into accepting their blondness. After all, no one can really help what hair color they are born with, or - er - dreamed with.

That was several years ago. Since then I've developed a dislike for the overuse of redheads in fiction, but that's another story. When I picked up Trefury again to edit and polish it up I did a lot of research into my psyche back when I first wrote it, since the main character was a teenager and I wasn't one any more, still mystified by the fact that I couldn't change her appearance without feeling wrong about it. And in revisiting my younger self, I found the basis for her hair.

I had a youth leader, a woman in her late thirties/early forties who defied the middle age ideal. Instead of cropping it short and manageable she let it grow down her back, kept it in a braid, and it was blond. She was an adult I really looked up to, and I believe her hair crept into my dream.

I've grown my hair out several times, partially for method writing. It helps to know what it's like to have long, thick hair and what goes into maintaining it. You spend more time with a brush and use more shampoo and conditioner for starters. Long hair also gets in the way of the simplest activities, especially if unbound. Activities such as preparing food, stooping to clean up a mess, handling children, walking through trees and bushes, even buckling a seat belt - the hair can get in the way or pulled.

My character, Cortnee, has grown out her hair for two reasons: because she has very nice hair and wants it long, the second reason is that she was in a small power struggle with her mom over short hair versus long hair. When her mom is no longer around, Cortnee has the freedom to let it grow, and grow. It gets down to her knees and she usually keeps it tamed in a braid. Her hair also becomes symbolic when she gets to a place where no one grows their hair out, representing her alien background as well as her independent spirit.

I had fun researching hair styles. I knew even a long braid wouldn't work for some of the action Cortnee would go through. It would be too easy for an adversary to catch her by the braid or for it to get tangled up. I could go into every neat idea I came across, but why bore those of you who don't care? For those who do, here is a great YouTube channel that focuses on hair styles and how to do them.

Personally, I still prefer long hair to short, and I can write about it with confidence. As to hair color, even though red became the new blond for a long time and is now being replaced with black, I do know that trying to make your character look a certain way to fit a trope or current popular ideal can backfire. Cortnee wanted to be blond in countries where the predominant hair colors were darker. Delving into the story I now know staying true to my vision created layers of symbolism.

And deep down I can still smile knowing her personality's not like the stereotypical blonds I ran into when I was a kid.

If you write, have you ever had a character want to look a certain way, even if it wasn't something you liked?


  1. My first book focused on hair color because coloring decided what fictional racial group you belonged to. My latest book is focused on beards as a symbol from boyhood to manhood. It just sort of slipped in out of nowhere.

    I usually go with my own hair color for my main characters. It happens to be blonde. Which pretty much rules out the mc's being the perfect blonde. How can they be perfect or popular if they are based on me?

    1. =) You're a very likeable blond person, Michelle.