Sunday, January 24, 2010

Small imperfections

I’d like to see more small physical imperfections on characters.

Physical deformities are interesting provided they aren’t either 1. birthmarks shaped like crowns/swords/hawks, indicating the character’s noble blood, or 2. “everyone around her says it’s ugly but we know better” features. Something like a skunk-streak in the heroine’s hair, for instance. That kind of thing tends to be coolness hiding behind a fig leaf of supposed imperfection. I’d like to see imperfection that’s treated accordingly.

One of my favorite facial blemishes is the port-wine stain, which is easy to fall back on since it affects a relatively large number of people. That, and it’s not a horribly disfiguring thing like a character missing a nose, so you could still have readers seeing such a character as attractive but not by any means perfect.

I’m kind of biased, though, since I have three small black birthmarks on my nose that, believe it or not, I never noticed until I went back to the Middle East for a holiday. A family member pointed them out and after that I kept seeing them when I looked in a mirror. I think if you connected the dots, you’d get an isoceles triangle.

Birthmarks can be bluish or brown as well, and in a speculative fiction story they could conceivably be any color and could therefore have interesting names. For instance, yellow birthmarks could be called sunspots. There’s also a real-life birthmark called a “stork bite” or “angel’s kiss”. Maybe dark-skinned characters have reverse freckles – a scattering of lighter spots on their skin.

And odd-looking blemishes on the eyelids would be fun to play with. Other characters might not be certain if they’ve actually seen those – not until the blemished character is asleep, anyway.

Baldness or a receding hairline are options, as are crooked teeth. Even a receding chin. Or what about a character having suffered nerve damage to one side of her face? It won’t be too evident until she smiles or laughs; at that point, others notice that only one corner of her mouth turns up.

That was fun to imagine.


Maria Zannini said...

I never considered adding physical imperfections before. I always concentrated on the emotional ones--the ones you can't see (at least not until you know the character better).

I found it interesting that you never noticed your birthmarks. They were a part of you--not separate. Your family member saw them as foreign.

Maybe you're of noble birth and you didn't even know it. :grin:

Have a great day, Marian!

A. Shelton said...

I've got a character who has two different birthmarks, both caused by magic (one by an abortion spell, one caused by a spell to prevent abortion). She is ostracized because having both birthmarks is supposed to make her an imbecile (she's in fact highly intelligent).

She's not having an easy time in school.

colbymarshall said...

As a kid, I used to WISH I had birthmarks. I had a friend with one, and I thought it was the coolest thing on earth. Therefore, I always seem to work this sort of things into character I write, simply because I used to want them so badly! ;-)

Marian said...

Maria - I think I have a blind spot (no pun intended) when it comes to appearances. Unless someone makes a dramatic change in theirs, I usually don't notice smaller things like streaks in the hair.

Noble birth, haha. That reminds me of the time my uncle decided to trace our family tree as far back as possible to see if we had any British, Portuguese or Dutch contributions to it.

I think we were found to be 100% native Sri Lankan. Though of course I turned out to be a complete coconut - brown on the outside and white on the inside.

A. Shelton - I like that a lot. Birthmarks indicating mental deficiency rather than coolness or special power. It's unusual and realistic.

Colby - I felt the same way about curly hair when I was a teenager. I wished my hair was at least wavy, but no, it was so straight that I thought it looked dull.

I can't be grateful enough for it now, though. :)