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Rambling
10-04-2014, 10:38 PM
Please forgive the rantiness, and it isn't actually triggered by the obvious series :)

Clumsiness in characters seems to be a current fad - a notable number of authors Iíve read over the last few years seem to have picked this as an optional extra. Itís like theyíve picked it because a flaw is compulsory and it doesnít seem likely to damage their characterís image, like an interviewee claiming that their biggest weakness is that they work too hard. Donít do this. If your character is Mary Sue-ish, no quantity of fake flaws are going to change that. Okay, but thatís not you -- you genuinely want to write a well-rounded character who happens to be clumsy. Fair enough. But then please think it all the way through. [Oh, I guess you could also be writing slapstick. If so, ignore all below; slapstick has different rules]

I am clumsy in real life. I canít remember the last time all my toenails were alive at the same time, and you can tell the height of the various tables in my life by the bruise patterns on my legs. This means a few things. It means I donít place glasses anywhere near the edge of a surface. It means I donít wear heels. It means I rotate the handles of pots and pans to be on the opposite side of where Iím working.It means I keep one hand free when going up and down stairs. It means I rest my containers in a sink if Iím trying to pour something hot into them. It means that if something is likely to slide if carried on a tray? I donít carry it on a tray. As an adult, I break neither bones nor glassware with any greater frequency than anyone else. Iím clumsy. Iím not stupid, nor inconsiderate, nor suicidal. So unless your character is stupid, inconsiderate, or suicidal, they too should have developed coping skills to compensate for their problems. They shouldnít be tripping over thin air while carrying a pyramid of glasses.

If you want to handle it with any sort of depth, youíll also need to decide how theyíre clumsy, because not all clumsiness is created equal. For example, I have diminished proprioception and poor spatial memory - asking me to point to something I canít see is an exercise in hilarity. (But again, I donít tend to get lost. Iíve learnt to compensate for having no sense of direction in the literal sense). It means I have to watch for that vicious attacking furniture, but threading a needle doesnít defeat me. Someone with balance problems, or nightblindness, or muscle weakness, or problems with motor coordination, or something else, will have a different set of things that scare them, and will have changed their lives to avoid a different set of circumstances.

Which brings me to a point that feels like it should be too obvious to mention, except that I never see any evidence of it. The results of clumsiness are painful, humiliating, and inconvenient, and people avoid circumstances likely to leave them hurt, humiliated, or inconvenienced. I hate to imply itís an irrational phobia, but expect someone with nightblindness to react the same way to a walk home at twilight as an arachnophobe being asked to carry a tarantula. This is something that will get more pronounced the older your character is, in part because of experience, in part because how much damage you take is in direct proportion to your age. A fall you can walk off at twenty will put you on crutches for weeks at forty. Similarly, bruises that used to fade in days will remain visible for up to a month.

If you were hoping to use the clumsiness so the supporting characters will commiserate with them? Realise that in real life, frequent minor accidents quickly use up other peopleís store of sympathy. No matter how nice a person is, theyíll reach their limit for how often theyíre willing to express concern over yet another bruise. The last time a body part of mine turned blue, my husbandís reaction boiled down to something close to Ďwell, at least this time I donít have to drive you to hospital.í Even more major accidents will be treated much the same way as with someone driving over the legal alcohol limit Ė people will assume itís the victimís own fault, and scale their compassion appropriately.

Everyoneís a little clumsy, most people think theyíre clumsier than average, and a few people have medical conditions they need to be treated for. It isnít the degree of clumsiness attributed to characters that bother me, itís the integration that clumsiness has into the entire presentation of that character. So if you want to write about it, donít try and sprinkle it on top - make it part of who they are.

mirandashell
10-04-2014, 10:45 PM
Oh lor, I am so glad you said this! I can be clumsy because I have CFS. A totally different kind of clumsy to yours and I have different coping mechanisms. But the one thing it's not is cute to other people. They get fed up with it pretty quickly.

Marian Perera
10-04-2014, 11:00 PM
A clumsy heroine is going to turn me off unless there's something amazing to make up for it, because I've read this so many times it irritates the hell out of me.

The last straw was a romance I wanted to like, except when the hero and heroine are taking a walk together, she's so overwhelmed by his hotness that she stumbles and almost falls. He catches her. Then he says something, and she's so stunned by his hotness that she stumbles and almost falls. He catches her. Then he smiles, and she's so bowled over by his hotness that... yeah. At that point I decided she had a neurological disorder and I stopped reading.

mirandashell
10-04-2014, 11:06 PM
Oh yes, that would have hit the wall pretty quickly!

I wonder why they do it cos they've stopped doing it in films pretty much. You know, where the heroine runs away and falls over a log or a stone or her own feet and the hero sweeps in and picks her up. Eyeroll!

Marian Perera
10-04-2014, 11:19 PM
I wonder why they do it cos they've stopped doing it in films pretty much.

In romances it seems to mimic the Bella/Anastasia klutzy cuteness as well as being a sure-fire means of showing how hot the hero is. He's so breathtaking he makes her stumble and trip, and that way he can show he's strong (by catching her) and in love (by being amused at her antics).

Rambling
10-04-2014, 11:20 PM
But the one thing it's not is cute to other people. They get fed up with it pretty quickly.

Oh yes.

But they still expect me to sympathise with them when they do the same thing.

Another thing that drives me nuts is how everyone's an expert. Not just the well-meaning but valueless "Be careful!" after I've already hurt myself, but the "You shouldn't move so fast / You should tie your shoelaces tighter / You shouldn't eat so much sugar / etc.." Like if they can pin it to something, they can make it a life lesson for me so they don't have to feel bad.



At that point I decided she had a neurological disorder and I stopped reading.

Hahaha - yeah, I'd start wondering why the hero isn't more disturbed by it :)

Marian Perera
10-04-2014, 11:26 PM
Hahaha - yeah, I'd start wondering why the hero isn't more disturbed by it :)

Oh, he knows this flaw will be restricted to her tripping over her own feet like a baby who's just starting to walk. She'll never, for instance, accidentally knock a cup of hot coffee into his lap. And when they have sex, she'll turn into Margot Fonteyn. No clumsiness there!

mirandashell
10-04-2014, 11:32 PM
:ROFL:

Jamesaritchie
10-05-2014, 12:34 AM
Is there anyone who isn't clumsy to some degree? If so, I've never met them.

I handle the trait of clumsiness exactly as I handle any other trait. I make it real, and I use real people as models. I never put in a flaw because it's "compulsary", and sometimes I put in no discernible flaw at all. I've never, ever had an editor or a reader complain. To me, sticking a flaw into every character just screams, "Hey, you;re reading a novel."

I know people aren't perfect, and so do readers. There's no need to point out the obvious. If a character handles a situation realistically, treats others around him realistically, and thinks and acts realistically, there's no need to make him trip over a carpet, or kick a small dog, or yell at a child, or be unable to speak clearly.

My characters are all real people, and they aren't patchwork Dr. Frankenstein monsters, sewn together from a piece of this guy, and a part of that guy. To the best of my ability, I put down a real person on paper, and have him do, act, think, and speak as he would do in a real situation. If he hits his thumb with a hammer, it's solely because that real person has hit his thumb with a hammer. It's never there just to introduce a flaw. I've found most characters in most stories do not need some flaw the reader can see, so I don't put one in.

kuwisdelu
10-05-2014, 12:39 AM
Clumsiness works best when you're running late to school with toast in your mouth.

mccardey
10-05-2014, 12:50 AM
I remember getting really, really cross with a neighbour who told my then two-year-old son that he was clumsy because he, I dunno, did something unsuccessfully. It seemed like such a negative judgemental descriptor. Not to mention premature.

I haven't thought about clumsiness for ages. Thanks, OP - that description of dealing with it has so much information. Very generous of you. Very valuable for writers.

kuwisdelu
10-05-2014, 12:56 AM
I'm definitely guilty of playing my own clumsiness for comedy.

If I trip, I make sure to trip dramatically.

kuwisdelu
10-05-2014, 12:57 AM
Let's also not forget sometimes clumsiness can be a character strength rather than a flaw.

How do male characters manage to trip so perfectly they innocently end up with a face full of breasts so often?

If I did that, I'd end up in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

I wish I had that superpower.

Buffysquirrel
10-05-2014, 12:58 AM
I always keep a hand free when going downstairs, too. My knee has a nasty habit of giving out occasionally, and a plunge to the ground isn't my idea of fun. People sometimes laugh at how long it can take me to get downstairs. But speed is over-rated!

mccardey
10-05-2014, 01:00 AM
I wish I had that superpower.

You should just wish for some breasts.

Sam Argent
10-05-2014, 01:02 AM
Clumsiness works best when you're running late to school with toast in your mouth.

Not so much when you're wearing pjs and praying the bus driver sees you before she turns the corner. *sigh*

And people never mention how frustrating it is like if you cook a nice meal, take all the accident prone precautions you can think of, and still manage to spill your meal on the floor. This is never a cute 'Tee hee, I'm so clumsy moment'. Also, it's embarrassing when people help you after you trip. When it happens, I just want to get up, forget it happened, and walk it off.

kuwisdelu
10-05-2014, 01:03 AM
You should just wish for some breasts.

A nice pair of feminine breasts would definitely help to distract from my belly. Manboobs just aren't perky enough.

buz
10-05-2014, 01:03 AM
Any flaw that does not have consequences in the manuscript is not a flaw. :)

Roxxsmom
10-05-2014, 06:54 AM
I've been clumsy all my life, so I don't mind seeing an occasional character with this trait. We're out there in the world and deserve representation. However, I wouldn't say clumsiness is the kind of flaw that makes a character especially interesting. It's either an endearing or slightly irritating quirk (depending on whether said person trips and spills their drink on themselves or on you), not the kind of flaw that helps drive a story, or leads to an interesting redemption arc, or is generally something a character needs to overcome to achieve their goals.

Which, in my opinion, is the kind of flaw a character should have.

Now I suppose if the clumsy character is a diplomat who spills their drink down the cleavage of the Supreme Empress and starts a war, then it could be intriguing.

Tepelus
10-05-2014, 03:15 PM
A clumsy heroine is going to turn me off unless there's something amazing to make up for it, because I've read this so many times it irritates the hell out of me.

The last straw was a romance I wanted to like, except when the hero and heroine are taking a walk together, she's so overwhelmed by his hotness that she stumbles and almost falls. He catches her. Then he says something, and she's so stunned by his hotness that she stumbles and almost falls. He catches her. Then he smiles, and she's so bowled over by his hotness that... yeah. At that point I decided she had a neurological disorder and I stopped reading.

LOL! Are you sure it wasn't meant to be a comedy?

Bolero
10-05-2014, 09:17 PM
Well, and in romance/historical there are also "ladies tricks" - as in drop hanky/gloves/fan just when hot guy is passing so you can get an introduction because he does the gentlemanly thing and picks them up and hands them back. That is because she is most definitely not supposed to say "hi big boy"

Marian Perera
10-05-2014, 10:57 PM
LOL! Are you sure it wasn't meant to be a comedy?

Sadly, no. Contemporary romance. If it had been intended as comedy, that would have been worse, because it just wasn't funny.

gothicangel
10-05-2014, 11:12 PM
Well, and in romance/historical there are also "ladies tricks" - as in drop hanky/gloves/fan just when hot guy is passing so you can get an introduction because he does the gentlemanly thing and picks them up and hands them back. That is because she is most definitely not supposed to say "hi big boy"

I like how Jane Austen got round this in Northanger Abbey. Catherine meets Henry Tilney at a party, but she isn't supposed to speak to him before someone has introduced them. Catherine is being chaperoned by Mrs Allen (who she is staying with), when Mrs Allen is accidently bumped into be Henry, and manages to dislodge a dress pin, and being the gentleman he is re-fastens it. Mrs Allen then starts talking about how expensive the muslin cost, and Henry starts talking with her on the subject. Remembering they haven't been introduced (and has taken a fancy to Catherine), he runs off to find the party host to introduce him to Catherine.

Bolero
10-06-2014, 09:14 PM
I like how Jane Austen got round this in Northanger Abbey. Catherine meets Henry Tilney at a party, but she isn't supposed to speak to him before someone has introduced them. Catherine is being chaperoned by Mrs Allen (who she is staying with), when Mrs Allen is accidently bumped into be Henry, and manages to dislodge a dress pin, and being the gentleman he is re-fastens it. Mrs Allen then starts talking about how expensive the muslin cost, and Henry starts talking with her on the subject. Remembering they haven't been introduced (and has taken a fancy to Catherine), he runs off to find the party host to introduce him to Catherine.


Forgotten that. And of course it is period perfect because what she was writing was a contemporary romance. :)

L M Ashton
10-11-2014, 05:46 AM
Rambling, well said.

I have proprioception problems as well, along with dysautonomias and incredibly unstable joints that dislocate/subluxate/give out any time they feel like it.

Compensating for clumsiness? Absolutely. I have indoor shoes and outdoor shoes. I never go barefoot. Ever. I've broken toes five times. Never again. I always use the handrail to go up and down stairs - have to. I carry things with two hands, not one, although I don't do heavy - the husband's for that. I've nearly passed out from walking into doorways (bilateral frozen shoulders - incredibly painful.) And I have days that I'm so clumsy that I'm dangerous and have to stay away from the kitchen and all knives, hot pots, and everything else that's dangerous.

Little Anonymous Me
10-11-2014, 05:58 AM
I am very clumsy. I drop everything. If it's on the ground, I trip. I am perpetually covered in bruises I have no memory of acquiring. My mother eventually gave up on telling me to look up when I walk because I stumbled too often with my eyes off the ground. :rolleyes:

I hate it when clumsy is done to be cute. I hated it in Twilight, and I still do. That being said, my characters have clumsy moments. I find myself raising an eyebrow when no one in a book ever stumbles over something as they creep through a dark house, fall as they take the stairs two at a time, or bounces in their saddle like a sack of potatoes.


If I trip, I make sure to trip dramatically.

You say this as if there's another way to do it. :D

Marian Perera
10-12-2014, 05:04 PM
That being said, my characters have clumsy moments. I find myself raising an eyebrow when no one in a book ever stumbles over something as they creep through a dark house, fall as they take the stairs two at a time, or bounces in their saddle like a sack of potatoes.

Oh yeah. I have a historical novella where the heroine, fleeing from an intruder, bolts into a dark bedroom and runs into one of the posts of a four-poster bed, which hits her between the eyes. But it's not played for laughs, and it's not a cute flaw of hers.

And I came back to this topic because I just read this review (http://likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=9363):


It wasn't just the showering that bothered me, though. It was how Claire's "endearing" clumsiness actually just made her look stupid and helpless.

Carrie in PA
10-12-2014, 11:23 PM
That being said, my characters have clumsy moments.

Mine, too. My MC isn't clumsy per se, but she does trip over a turtle while out running... It isn't cute, either. She skins up her hands and knees. LOL

Little Anonymous Me
10-13-2014, 05:03 AM
Oh yeah. I have a historical novella where the heroine, fleeing from an intruder, bolts into a dark bedroom and runs into one of the posts of a four-poster bed, which hits her between the eyes. But it's not played for laughs, and it's not a cute flaw of hers.

It may not have been for laughs, but it made me laugh. :tongue I've done something similar, though I couldn't blame an intruder.

Getting smacked between the eyes while afraid and running can really add to the scene, and that's the sort of stuff I actually like seeing. Most people are uncoordinated when they panic. Perfect balance at all times is just as unbelievable as people literally tripping over physical attractiveness.


And I came back to this topic because I just read this review (http://likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=9363):

Ugh. Yes. THIS. That is my beef with "clumsy" characters. A.) They're nearly always women (How often do you see clumsy dudes?), and B.) It makes them look like morons who need someone strong to literally lean on. Never in my life has someone found my propensity to knock things over and trip over flat surfaces endearing. It's usually more along the lines of, "Don't hand LAM the actual glass, and let's move the vase a few inches further back."


Mine, too. My MC isn't clumsy per se, but she does trip over a turtle while out running... It isn't cute, either. She skins up her hands and knees. LOL

:ROFL:

I've tripped over a lot of things in life, but I can't say a turtle was ever one of them.