I’m digging through Marc McCutcheon’s book Building Believable Characters for the good stuff, and I’m in a section called BAD HABITS/VICES. It’s basically a three-page list of bad habits and vices you could give your characters. I started this discussion in my last post, so if you want to know what I’m up to, revisit that one. I’ll wait.
Welcome back. The next bad habit I want to discuss is FORGETS A LOT. I don’t tend to think of forgetfulness as a bad habit or a vice (I’m horribly forgetful), but I can see where this could be a fantastic trait for a hero. My friend Aggeloi wrote a story with an absent-minded hero, and I thought it was fabulous. The key to this trait is to balance it with some strength so the character doesn’t appear weak, pitiable, or unlovable. The forgetful genius has already been done (Absent-mindded professor). How about the forgetful woman who feeds the homeless four nights a week? Or the forgetful police officer who tries to get prostitutes off the streets? The forgetful school teacher who takes disadvantaged kids camping during the summer? I’m actually working on a version of this in one of my WIP’s: a forgetful FBI consultant who knows there’s a bit of information she gathered that’s crucial to solving the crime if she could just remember it. Memory is a fun thing to play with in stories because they can be triggered by so many things: smells, sounds, textures. I could find a dozen ways to use this trait in a novel. How about you?
Here’s a funny one: EATS SOUP STRAIGHT OUT OF THE CAN WITHOUT HEATING. The first thing I thought of was a hobo under a bridge eating pork-n-beans with a fork. I must have seen that in a TV show or movie. Anyway, this could be a wonderful quirk for an otherwise normal character to give him a spark of humor and reality. Chef Boy-R-Dee out of the can? I could see a young single man doing that. How about green beans out of the can? Crushed tomatoes (use a spoon, please), kidney beans in that nasty pink syrup, Nalley’s Chili with that crust of orange fat across the top… I could gross myself out doing this. Open your pantry and see what comes in a can, then picture your hero eating it. To jazz things up, make your hero something other than a young bachelor.
(Sweetened condensed milk, anyone? Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)
The last one for today’s post is WEARS TOO MUCH PERFUME OR COLOGNE. I can relate to this, as I was born with no sense of smell. If I spritz myself with perfume, I have no way of knowing if it’s too little or too much unless someone else is brave enough to tell me so (sons and husband seem oblivious, so I rely on total strangers or friends. Usually I just skip the perfume). While this could be an embarrassing trait for your hero, it could also impact others. There’s a kind old gentleman in my church who’s seriously allergic. Many times he comes to church, sits down, gets a whiff of someone walking by, and he’s got to leave the building with his hacking and wheezing. This bad habit could be used for comedic relief, for increased tension, or for raising the stakes (life-threasening allergies). Can you come up with a way to use this one?
I’ll continue with McCutcheon’s list of bad habits in my next post. Share your thoughts with me and whoever else might be reading today. Thanks!