And no, I’m not being rhetorical.
My college psych professor loved to remind us about how the tiniest details impacted our lives.
“If you can’t pick out your sweetie in a room full of other people–blindfolded–then you have no business having one.” A sweetie, not a blindfold.
He then egged us on about how our “sweeties” smelled, tasted and felt. If we couldn’t pick out their swaggers from a shadow, we were remiss in the area of interpersonal relations. A cough in an otherwise quiet room? Yep, we should be able to pick theirs out in a random sampling of 100 other coughs in a quiet room.
As freshman psych students, we all got chuckles out of it–on a very basic level. And yet, there is a lot of truth in what he said.
For example, nobody in the world wears the underlying scent of tractors as well as my DH. I could sniff him out of a line up, blindfolded.
I think this is a great lesson for writers. Often, we describe our characters’ physcial attributes, but pay little attention to the tiny details that make them unique.
How many books have we read where the MC has red hair or curly hair or jet black hair? Blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes? She’s too skinny. He’s so buff. Ach, it’s like one of those flip books we used as kids where it’s seperated into three parts: the hair, the eyes and the mouth region. We then flip the pages to create a random, yet unique set of features that we breifly describe and move on.
But what about smell?
I can honestly say that only one of my MC’s smells. Her distinct scent is vanilla and she tastes like salt. I don’t think I would have gone past the requisite physical characteristics if her situation didn’t demand it.
Certainly, I haven’t done so for other characters in other books. I may have to remedy that situation to give my MC’s more depth and make them a little more unique than the flip book method.
One of my (and DH’s) favorite quotable snippets comes from the movie Land Before Time. One of the dinosaurs sniffs the air and says, “I smell…I smell…Ducky.”
To which Ducky giggles. “You smell me?”
Do your MC’s stink? If so, like what and why? As a general rule, do you pay more attention to physcial descriptions, or do you engage the reader in exploring your MCs on a different level?