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 freedigitalphotos.net)
The next section of the book is called PSYCHOLOGICAL/PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS. I can’t wait to dig into it with you! Stay tuned.