“My friends here have a bet going about you,” he said.
I was with my own friends in a piano bar and I was on my way to the restroom when this table of five guys stopped me. Common sense said to keep walking. “Oh?” I said.
He nodded. “We have a bet about who is taller–you or him.” He gestured to one of his friends. “You mind if he stands next to you?”
I couldn’t decide if it was insulting to stand there and be measured by a table of guys I didn’t know or if it was uptight to get ticked off about it. “All right,” I said. One of the guys looked surprised I hadn’t told them off, but the others looked like they were used to this.
The tall one stood up. “You don’t mind?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Beats being asked how the weather is up here.” He laughed, but he lost his bet. I was an inch taller.
Sometimes when out with friends a guy would ask me to dance. I got tired of the look on the guy’s face when I stood up. “You’re tall,” they usually said. I’d smile. “Yes, I am.” Even if they were taller than me, they’d usually leave me on the dance floor after one dance. If they didn’t, they’d stay for one reason. As one drunk fellow said looking up at me, “It’s always been my fantasy to dance with a tall girl.” Some guys were more succinct. “I like ’em tall!” Sigh.
A manager transfered me out of his department to where I “could get more hours.” I didn’t get any more hours, but I did have several coworkers tell me that he transfered because I was taller than him. “Just look,” they said. “All the women in his department are petite.”
Then there was that photographer who asked my husband to stand on a box for our engagement photo. We went along with it because I thought it was funny. Twelve years later I still like showing that picture to friends. They frown. “Wait. I thought S. was shorter than you.” Ha.
In fiction characters are often given distinguishing traits. I’ve yet to write about a character who is tall. Too close. And some features are off limits because they belong to people I shouldn’t be caught writing about. It is a trick though, finding a quirk that humanizes the character and makes that individual stand out without coming across as forced and unbelievable.
I think that trait should reveal something or surprise the reader in some way. The trait may shape the character. Perhaps be contradictory in some way–like being over 6’1″ and not playing basketball. Or as one man said to me, “All that height going to waste.”
Indeed. In fiction, a character’s distinguishing feature should not go to waste, but should not be the only thing noteworthy either. Any favorite quirks you’ve ever given your characters? Any favorite characters in other books with some mark that stands out? The hairy feet of a hobbit? The scar of an orphan wizard or the bushy hair of the wizard’s friend? The green skin of a witch? The limp of a convict? The prosthetic limb of a country girl? The mismatched eyes of a detective? What else?