Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Making Your Characters Memorable
Through Weirdness

By Darvell Hunt

This week, I added an emergency stash of salt to my key ring. Up to this point, I had been keeping my emergency stash of salt in little restaurant condiment packs in the zippered coin pocket in my wallet.

Um, emergency stash of salt, you say? What the heck are you talking about and why would anybody need something like that?

My family has a history of salt wasting. We have a hard time retaining salt. For some reason, salt—both potassium and sodium—gets flushed from my body too quickly, so I have to replenish it or I get severe body cramps. I never know when a cramp attack is coming, so I carry an emergency stash of salt, just in case my salt levels drop unexpectedly.

Since my body needs both potassium and sodium salt, the little condiment packs aren’t providing sufficient electrolyte replenishment, being only sodium chloride. So I purchased a lightweight aluminum cylinder key-ring pill box, which I’ve filled with half-and-half salt: a mixture of potassium chloride and sodium chloride. Now I’ll be better prepared when I’m away from home and begin to have body cramps.

Why do I mention this? Because it’s weird. While it’s a very annoying physical malady for me, it’s interesting and even a little amusing (if you’re not the one getting the unexpected severe body cramps, that is).

Characters who don’t have weird attributes are not memorable, especially if you are writing for children. Sometimes the weirdness need only be a strange name, like Scout for a girl (To Kill a Mockingbird) or Hiccup for a nerdy Viking kid (How to Train your Dragon). A weird title might be the key, like: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Or, your character might have a common name, but some bizarre attribute, like a scar on his forehead because a powerful wizard tried to kill him with magic, but failed for some reason, and the evil wizard almost ended up killing himself in the process.

While I’m not sure that I want to read about a character who must carry emergency salt to prevent body cramps, I do believe the weirdness of things like this help the reader remember a character. With so many books out there now, anything that can make your writing more memorable (to readers and even agents and editors) is definitely a good thing.

So, make it weird or don't bother!


C. K. Bryant said...

Ummm...it just so happens that I'm writing a story about a girl who thinks she's a mermaid. She's lived by the ocean her whole life, swimming every day, but is now traveling across the U.S. to discover who she is and finds herself craving salt. She uses practically the whole shaker on an order of fries...LOL. So, yes I've thought about her getting a little container and carry special sea salt with her. So, see, your idea isn't so far fetched, after all. Thanks Darvel.

Darvell Hunt said...

Hmm, I like that. Carrying salt around with her would make for a very interesting (and weird) habit. It totally makes sense, too.

Thanks for sharing!

Keith Fisher said...

I used to carry a cylinder similar to that one. it came undone in my pocket and oil went everwhere. So cool . . . not weird. The rest of the world is trying to avoid salt.

Darvell Hunt said...

Very cool, Keith. ;)

It is weird that I'm consuming extra salt when most of the world is trying to cut down. In the decade before my Grandmother's death, she was hospitalized numerous times because her salt levels got too low. I want to try to avoid the hospitalizations. ;)

And, this cylinder is quite a bit larger than the one you get at Deseret Book for oil, if that's the type you are referring to. This one is about as big around as my thumb and about as long. I need more salt than what could fit into a common key-ring oil canister. This one is meant for pills.

Thanks for your comments.