Personality Traits: Bad Habits/Vices part 3

I’m discussing a section of Marc McCutcheon’s book  Building Believable Characters called BAD HABITS/VICES. It’s basically a three-page list of bad habits and vices you could give your characters. Let’s get to it.

The next vice that caught my eye is WATCHES TOO MUCH TV and it’s twin brother, WATCHES TOO MUCH SPORTS ON TV. We can all see the comedic potential in this one, but think about it’s serious impacts. Spending too much time on any one activity has a negative impact on all of life. Think about the man who skips church to watch football, or the woman who doesn’t feed her kids until it’s nearly bedtime because “her shows” were on, or the college student who’s failing classes because she’s addicted to daytime TV (soaps, talk shows, all of it). This can be a devastating issue if taken to extremes, and it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how this vice could become the Flaw a character must overcome to reach The Goal. You could substitute “TV” with any other activity and get the same results (video games, reading novels, building model airplanes, etc).
SWEARS TOO MUCH is on the list, and I immediately thought of a retired man who drove into the Cal-Gas one day to fill up his propane tank (this story courtesy of my husband, who was the poor soul who had to help this man). Every other word out of his mouth, to both the propane attendant and his wife, were foul words. He didn’t even realize he was cursing. He’d added those filthy words to his vocabulary, and they were as standard as articles and verbs. He used them like adjectives. This is an extreme example, but extremes are so much fun to play with in novels. How could a man with this potty mouth survive in the work force? Could he control his tongue in front of a police officer, or a judge, or his boss? How would his wife deal with it? I’d be mortified to be married to a man like that. Would his children emulate him? How would he respond to teachers who complained about his child’s inappropriate vocabulary? Society has become a bit numb to curse words, but they still offend people. Can you think of a way to use this as a flaw for your hero? How and why would he overcome this?
There are a lot of things on the list that deal with food and eating: TIPS TOO MUCH, DOESN’T TIP ENOUGH, BURPS LOUDLY IN PUBLIC, FINISHES EVERYONE ELSE’S MEAL, SNACKS TOO MUCH, CHEWS GUM TOO MUCH, COUGHS WITHOUT COVERING MOUTH (which is really gross if there’s food involved). You may have noticed the word “TOO” in many of these. They are all extremes. As I said above, these are fun to play with and will work as both comedy and tragedy. I remember an episode of Third Rock From The Sun where Mary left a tip on the restaurant table and Dick stuck it in his pocket. She caught him at it, and that lead to a half hour of hilarity while Dick learned the art of tipping properly. Just because it’s been done once (or twice) doesn’t mean you can’t put a new twist on it and use it yourself. Does your hero eat too much? Pair it with a high metabolism and she’s enviously skinny. Is your hero an extremely picky eater? Plunk him into a middle-eastern society where it’s rude to not eat what’s put in front of you and watch the tension mount. You’ve seen this a ton on TV: the girl who’s afraid of green Jell-o (Third Rock), the man who only eats white food (Numbers), the characters who eat live food (Star Trek)… have some fun with this one.
There are a lot more on the list, but I want to finish this up and move on. The last habit I’ll cover is PARKS IN HANDICAPPED SPACE because it has so much potential. When I see what appears to be a non-handicapped person get out of a vehicle parked in one of those spots, my first thought is “what a jerk.” But what if he really is handicapped, but it’s not visibly apparent? Or what if he really isn’t handicapped, he’s just being a jerk? Why would he do such a thing? Is there backstory lingering behind this excuse, or is he just in a hurry and it’s the only spot available? Does he do it all the time, or only once in a while? What are some handicaps that aren’t readily visible to passers-by that could make someone think ill of them? Diabetes came to the top of my head, but I’m sure there’s more. Heart trouble, nerve damage in feet, seizures (although why would this person be driving?), passenger who’s handicapped… what do you think?
(Photo courtesy of
The next section of the book is called PSYCHOLOGICAL/PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS. I can’t wait to dig into it with you! Stay tuned.

One thought on “Personality Traits: Bad Habits/Vices part 3

  1. Hoo boy – brace yourself on this one!

    First the easy part, just a funny comment about the food thing – my husband learned early on in our relationship that there is no ‘his food’ and ‘her food’ – it’s all ‘our food.’ I will snag things right off his plate and then ask permission… after I’ve already eaten the item. We both have a good sense of humor about this (and of course early on I wouldn’t just outright steal or eat it before asking permission – we grew into that dynamic only after I’d determined he was comfortable with ‘sharing’). And we do often deliberately make our food choices with the foreknowledge that we’ll be sharing – we both really want to try a couple different things on the menu, so we’ll each order one of the dishes and then share bites around. Some people would NEVER be able to stand that sort of thing, but it’s all in good fun for the two of us.

    Now for the real fun: handicapped spots!

    I have so many family members and friends who have ‘invisible’ diseases that I actually am less offended when I see someone get out of a car and walk fine than I am when I see that and then see some random stranger start chewing them out. Of course – this only applies if they have a placard or a disability plate! If they don’t, I’ll happily snap a picture and share it with the people inside the store (or wherever I am). I have one friend who has a nice collection of pictures of cars or other vehicles parked in handicapped spaces without the proper placard or plate for it – including one where it was a huge truck WITH A BOAT TRAILER taking up two or three handicapped spaces!

    But I can’t stand it when people see an obvious handicapped placard or plate but judge the person because they happen to be walking fine at the moment – people are too quick to judge and assume that the person must be a scammer or faker. While it is true that some people are scammers or fakers, the ability to walk without assistance is not proof positive of this, and people with invisible diseases all have a collection of stories of times they got chewed out by complete strangers for having a disorder that doesn’t involve visible proof by which strangers can judge them.

    It’s hard to find a specific list because there are so many different disorders which can be debilitating without requiring canes, crutches, or a wheelchair (or doesn’t require these tools at all times). Lupus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Rheumatoid Arthritis, EDS, Fibromyalgia, various other nerve disorders, chronic pain due to a past injury, various thyroid issues (check out hyperparathyroidism, for instance), etc, etc. It might not even be a lifelong disorder – someone who badly needs a knee or hip replaced but can’t get it yet for financial or medical reasons might get a temporary placard so they don’t have to walk as far.

    Here is a link which includes more information about various ‘invisible’ diseases, but it’s by no means comprehensive –

    The thing is, these disorders often involve ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’ – and sometimes people think that means, well, you can park in normal spots on your ‘good days’ and leave those spots for people who really need them on that day, right? Nope. The thing is, these disorders tend to be ticking time bombs that can go off at any moment. You could wake up with tons of energy, feeling good, drive to the store, get halfway through your shopping, and suddenly your legs say, “Screw this noise, I’m done.” And when that happens, there’s literally nothing you can do but pull the collapsible canes out of your purse, struggle your way out of the store, and make your way home to lie down and hope it passes. Everyone seeing you walk into the store would see a perfectly healthy, energetic person. But that doesn’t mean a bad spell can’t hit at any moment. Look up the spoon theory for more on that one – it’s a great way for people without chronic disorders to understand what it’s like to have a chronic disorder.

    On a related note, I’ve got one friend with a severe chronic pain disorder that she has been to doctor after doctor, treatment after treatment for with no end in sight. She loves to go to conventions and cosplay. She usually has to stay off her feet for a few days straight before the convention and a week afterwards to make up for all the energy she uses during the convention. Her body has so little energy even then that she uses a wheelchair to get around the convention center. But when it’s time to take pictures, if she’s got the energy/strength for it, she’ll stand up and pose. Imagine the comments and looks she gets for that one! It’s very hard for people to wrap their minds around the concept of a person in a wheelchair who seems to stand up and take a few steps and smile for a photo with no problems. And people do tend to judge and assume the worst – this person must be faking for attention and special treatment.

    Even the medical field has a long history of assuming symptoms are faked or all in the sufferer’s head. Doctors used to say that hypothyroidism was caused by hysteria (as was PMS), and morning sickness was not a medical issue caused by hormones but the mother was subconsciously trying to reject her baby by puking it out. If doctors don’t know or don’t understand something, they’re more likely to say, “It’s hypochondria” rather than admit that they just don’t know what is causing the problem or how to fix it. If you can overlook some bad language, this article is a fantastic perspective of what it’s like to navigate the medical system with a rare disorder –

    Okay, I think I’ve worn out my soapbox. As far as stories go – it could be interesting to have a protagonist with some sort of chronic disorder and have to deal with complete strangers or even well-meaning friends/family assuming they’re faking or not trying hard enough (“Just fake it til you make it!” “Just focus on the good things in life!” “If you would just cut out dairy/processed foods/legumes/meat/veggies/whatever food is forbidden by the current fad diet, you’d be fine!” “But you don’t LOOK sick…” “Well, if there’s something in your life between you and God right now, then of course you aren’t going to get any better.” “Don’t let the devil steal your joy!” “You know, if you don’t have enough faith, your prayers will never make a difference.”).

    And the ‘parks in handicapped space’ can still totally work as long as it’s made clear the person does not actually have a disorder or doesn’t have the placard/plate for it. Or I propose a bad habit from the other side of the same coin – “Considers self in charge of policing the world and will chew out someone who parks in a handicapped space just for not ‘looking’ sick.” I can tell you there will be millions of people who would immediately hate that character, and will cheer out loud if you include a scene where they light into a young, healthy-looking woman, only to see her collapse in the middle of the store and have to use canes to get herself back outside, and learns this person has a chronic pain issue that hadn’t flared up until just that moment. Double points if the character overhears someone comment that stress (like getting yelled at for no reason) can affect these flareups… 😉

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