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Spicy Water And Other Incongruities 

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Photo by Gretchen Engel

Yes, those are jalapenos in ice water. Chalk this up as “only in Tucson”. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking tap water from The Old Pueblo, you’ll know drinking water flavored with chiles that might burn your taste buds would be a welcome addition. This particular concoction was at a posh hotel, so there was no tap water aftertaste to overcome. The jalapeno water was really good. Of course when it’s 115F, water straight from the tap tastes heavenly. After years of living in Phoenix, which also has a barely drinkable water supply, I got used to adding lemon or my personal favorite, lime, to water.

It’s not so different with books. There’s nothing worse than a character with the personality of bottled water. Or worse, they’re “artificially flavored”. You know the type or rather stereotype. The characters are thinner than tissue paper.

As a reader, my favorite thing is discovering character quirks. Weird collections. An obsession. A talent. A secret. The less that fits with the character the better. My favorite are when it’s discovered there’s a geek hidden under the surface of a “cool kid”. I recently read a book where the heroine was a feminine romantic, it was revealed that she was good at pickup basketball. I didn’t see that coming.

When writing, put surprise traits in your characters. What about an athlete who knits? A nerd who’s a great baseball player. Or make them complex from the start. Imagine a hero who has moved around quite a bit so he’s not sure if he’s an outdoorsy mountain lover or a big city boy. Maybe he’s both. What about a Midwestern girl who has wealthy relatives on the East Coast? Perhaps a character born and raised in a country different from her parents’ homeland. Would she be like her “native culture” or the one in which she was raised? Where would she be most comfortable.

When writing or reading, look for the jalapeno in the water.

Think about a book you read or a character you developed. What was something that surprised you about a character?


About Gretchen E K Engel

Chemical engineer by day, spec fiction writer by night

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