Tip of The Day # 17: Scratches and dents, or lovely patina?
Which is more memorable? The hero with broad shoulders and chiseled jaw, or the battle scarred warrior with the eye patch? Add scratches and dents and you not only produce memorable characters, you add depth of character and plot twists. Battle scars are often mentioned, but what about pock marks in unusual places, such as on a shoulder blade or top of the foot? In medieval times, several types of pox were common, so most people would have had pox scars. Even today, many people have small chicken pox scars, and all U.S. citizens over the age of 50 have one large smallpox vaccination scar on their left shoulder. In time travel novels, that vaccination scar could be a mark of distinction or perceived as a mark of evil.
Imperfections don't always have to be physical. In Raiders of The Lost Ark, Indiana Jones was afraid of....I bet everyone reading this blog immediately remembers the line, "Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes?" Why do we remember this? Because it was unexpected for a hero to admit fear, or imperfection, so it made him and the line relatable and memorable. What other fears or insecurities could your heroes and heroines have that would make them memorable? Listen to the conversations of people you know and take note of things they fear. How many people do you know who are afraid of spiders, heights, ghosts, cats; the list goes on and on.
What about the heroine? She could have scars in her eyebrows that give her a crooked but impish frame to her eyes. She could be absent minded. Think of something other than her stunning beauty to help her stand out, and it will lead to a back story about how the scars or quirks came to be or resulting foibles in the current action around her. The crooked brows could come from a wicked sibling who pushed her down a flight of stairs. Her absentmindedness could cause her to lose track of the key to the larder (medieval), or the code to start the escape pod when she has to get away from the alien in the mother ship (science fiction/fantasy).
I've focused on the hero and heroine, but you can use the same treatment for some of your secondary characters. Make them relatable. Perhaps an unusual voice or tendency to clear their throat constantly could set them apart.
The moral of this blog is: When you are planning your characters, try adding a few scratches and dents. Your story will have a beautiful patina that lasts for generations.