Post by Jenny
Considering my fair complexion and a lifetime spent in Colorado (unofficial motto: We’re the closest state to the sun!*), it’s no wonder that the suspicious skin spot on my temple turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma. I was relieved to learn that basal cell is the least worrisome of the skin cancers, but it still needed to be dealt with. The procedure to remove it left me with fourteen stitches and a black eye that is finally almost gone, more than two weeks later.
I expected a lot of “what happened to you?” type questions, but, to my surprise, strangers and acquaintances didn’t say a word, just carried on as if my cheekbone wasn’t a lovely avocado green. It was kind of surreal and left me wondering what stories they made up about me in their heads. Car accident? Cage match? Slip, trip, and fall? (That one’s for you, Brian Regan fans.) Sadly, life being what it is, I must assume that more than one person suspected my husband had busted me upside my head.
This whole experience got me thinking about scars. Scars always have stories. They can be funny or amazing or tragic or just one of the many commonplace incidents that manage to leave a permanent mark. I can look at the back of my left hand and remember when the double bass player accidentally slammed the orchestra locker on it in junior high school. My husband will always have the smooth circle on his shoulder from the time he was hit by a car in Holland on his eighth birthday. Scars can be emotional, too, of course—with or without a physical analogue—and those can be the most devastating of all.
I have to believe that not very many people make it through life without at least a few scars, both visible and not. Scars make us more interesting, and the same holds true for our characters. Without the scar on his forehead, Harry Potter still would have been The Boy Who Lived, but that lightning bolt added another wonderful dimension to his character—especially when it tingled and burned to warn him of trouble.
So please don’t be afraid to rough up your characters a little—or a lot, depending on the story. Cut them and burn them and break their bones and give them indifferent parents and abusive bosses and drug addiction. By doing so, you will also give your readers reasons to root for them…or help explain how they became characters we root against.
What are some of the ways you have scarred your characters?
*Colorado has the highest mean elevation and highest low point of any state. Insert marijuana joke here.