s you can see HERE and HERE and even HERE, I attended a huge model train operations session in San Diego. Had a lot of fun (and felt pretty good that people refer to me as “the writer guy”). I even sat on a siding for a few hours, chatting with my helper crew about literature and favorite books.
However, writing (and the idiosyncrasies of such) always give me pause for thought. And I was really thinking about it when my butt started to burn.
See, ops are about long hours on your feet, of climbing stairs and crawling under layouts. And with all that friction, by the end of the third day I tend to get a rash. Every year I get one and every year I vow to bring baby powder or diaper cream (and I don’t). By the end of the session, I was walking like a cowboy (and grimacing like a bank loan officer).
And what does any of this have to do with writing?
As I lay in my hotel bed that night, legs tossed apart to heal, I thought of all the characters in literature who suffer strange conditions.
I remember the main character from Woman on a train with a problem with alcoholism but that’s hardly unique – Stachel from The Blue Max was a drunk, too. As was Athos from The Three Musketeers. Just about every gumshoe of noir literature is a drunk. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas took it to a new height. So this is pretty much convention, in no way unique.
I do remember that Harry Flashman (in Flashman at the Charge) had a horrible stomach bug as the light brigade drew up before its charge. There, he was tooting and farting just before they rode to destiny (and disaster). And that makes me think of some book I read decades before named Further Adventures, whose aged hero has discomforting constipation. So there are those. And Steven King’s Insomnia, with the problem of the title.
But really, I can’t think of too many characters who are personalized by short or long term conditions. And maybe writers should – I think characters with shingles are rather more interesting than those with steadfast gray eyes. Keep this in mind – a character with a distinctive trait, like color blindness or allergies or even asthma, that could make them stand out. Good characters are hard to come by – make yours good. Make yours unique.