Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Height

I've read a few interesting comments on writing blogs where the commenter mentions that they think some authors give too many details about a character's appearance. And I can certainly see what they mean. Especially when the same type of paragraph is used for different characters about the hair color, eyes, face, body, etc. But the question asked by some stuck with me. Why is that information important? I'm not going to talk about most the details because I'm sure you all can give excellent reasons. No, I'm going to talk about one thing that may not seem like a big deal to some.

I'm talking about Height.

I am not tall. Not even close. I'm actually 4'11.5" or 151.1 cm. Recently, I started a job at a pizza place and because of that I came up with this topic. Height shouldn't matter when working with pizza right? umm yeah it does. My sneakers are those shape-up kind so they at least get me to at least 5 feet tall but I still struggle. It's hard for me to reach certain toppings. I have to stretch out the toes of one foot and reach to get things like pepperonis and pineapples. And doing dishes is worse. If the sprayer is put up in the wrong spot I have to stretch to reach it and putting away clean dishes, psh. So many things I struggle putting away because I'm too short. I sometimes stare at the tall people then the spot where it goes, hoping they get the message, or I ask them to do it for me because it takes too long to get out a step stool for the different dishes. So, height does affect how I do at my job.

What about in stories? Does the character's height affect anything?

It can. First, height can help distinguish different minor characters. In my YA novel, sometimes the MC refers to one of the agents (he calls them Suits) as the tall one. He doesn't know their name.  But it's a way for him to distinguish between the two when it's both men who visit him from the mutant regulation agency (or whatever I call it).

In romance, height can be used as both the way to distinguish between characters (since I write m/m it's tougher than f/m to keep the two apart at times) but it also has benefits. Scenes written that are important to the genre, like maybe a kiss, the height factor can bring in a good detail. This doesn't have to mean giving a stat like 5'10" or anything like that, just how a character has to lean down, or stretch up implies a difference between the two characters.

I've never fought. I can use a recurve bow and a gun (prefer the bow) but I haven't tried swords or anything like that, but I imagine height would have some influence in fights. The person has to know how to adjust and use height for their advantage or the other person's disadvantage. I'd imagine someone short like me probably shouldn't be using a long sword. I need a Hobbit one or something.

The last one I'll mention you often see in fantasy. Ever tried getting up on a horse and getting your feet in the stirrups when short? It's not easy. And getting off the horse is hard too. I don't jump down well, so had to use my friend's four wheeler because her mom had gone to fix a fence. And what about those young characters who have never ridden a horse before?

See. Height does matter. ;-)

How about you?
Does height affect anything you or your characters do?


Áine Tierney said...

I'm 5 foot 6 and a half inches! Very standard for a girl, so its not something that I notice too often in the workplace etc. A lot of my height is in my legs, so even at my height I find the seatbelt in the car hits me across the neck. Its great to get this detail from you about interacting in the world when you are short, because it is the kind of stuff that would help bring the character to life on the page.

Angeline said...

What an insightful post. I am 5ft 8 and considered tall. It's hard to see the world from other perspectives, so this has been really useful to think about problems my characters might have.
Like Aine I struggle with seatbelts as my legs are proportionally long, and I get backache doing the washing up as kitchen's are built for a general height of 5ft 4.

Cheree said...

Wonderful post. I consider my characters heights before I start writing, but most of the time that information doesn't end up in the story. I only mention height (and not the exact) if it plays a part in the plot or it's a certain physical characteristic.

allison said...

My supervisor at work is short and sometimes can't reach things, especially heavy things, and has to ask me to do it. But I'm 6'1", so I'm taller than most people at work!

I usually don't consciously mention my characters' height, and I'm not even sure if I picture them that clearly. I think if I address it, it's just compared to another character, like needing to lean on one's shoulder or reach up to hug, slipped in like that.

- allison writes

Dawn Embers said...

I forgot about seatbelts. Hate how they go across my neck when I'm driving. A bit of a nuisance. Then cause I'm just short in general, sitting in certain chairs means my feet don't always reach the floor.

Aine Tierney - Thanks. Glad to help people see what a short character might have to go through. :-)

Angeline - Well, thank you. You are tall compared to me, which isn't hard to do. lol.

Cheree - :-D It's good to know more information about the characters than the reader ends up discovering.

allison - It's nice that you help. The height is more useful to mention if they are doing something it might affect.

On a different note: pirate stories might want to know about ships and height because in the old ship I got to see, below deck it was 5 feet from the floor to the ceiling. Everyone had to duck the whole time but three of us (one was a kid).

Erin Kane Spock said...

My husband and I are the same-ish height. I'm 5'7" he's 5'8". But I would never write that in a romance novel. The man has to be bigger than the woman. I don't know if it's actually a genre law or not, but it's understood. It has to do with him looking down and her raising her face for the kiss. Beyond that, it doesn't matter if she's 2 inches of 10 inches shorter than him. Personally, I don't have that huge of a height difference.
My current mc is petite (5' 2") and the love interest is about 6', but my last book she was about 5' 9" and he was 6' 1".
I guess the short answer is, yes, I think about it.
My mom uses bbq tongs to reach things on tall shelves in my house. Just a suggestion. :)

Dawn Embers said...

Erin Kane - Thanks for commenting. I use tongs, dustpans, anything that is available when I need to get something down. The hard part is putting away certain items. I write M/M so I can have either character be the taller one. :-)

L'Aussie said...

Oh, aren't you a little shortie? We seem to like our characters, at least the males, to be tall. Probably because we've all heard about 'short man syndrome' which can make a man not so nice as he over compensates. But what's wrong with being short? I sometimes see women who are so tall, all hunched over. Why? Whatever height we're given, that's it. Look, it hasn't stopped you Dawn, able to use a recurve bow and a gun. I'm impressed.


L'Aussie Travel A -Z Challenge H is for Haiti.

Susan Kane said...

I have clung to the delusion that I am 5'4" for decades. Now the medical facilities claim I am 2 inches shorter.
My m/cs are children, but even height is essential in the hierarchy of things.
Good post. Yes, bbq tongs are helpful, as well as spatulas, and salad tongs. Take care of your back.

Editor Mouse said...

I sympathize with you, as I am 4' 10" to 4' 11". I often need help getting things off of the top shelves, or getting clothes. People in the middle range of height don't understand how hard it is sometimes to find clothes that fit. Characters in novels as well never seem to have a problem finding clothes that fit them, even if there is limited selection.

Also, being as short as I am, I am often believed to be much younger than I really am. I've been called a middle schooler while I'm actually in college. Height (in addition to face type) can fool many people.

Dawn Embers said...

Denise - *blushes* I actually had a male friend who was only a little taller than me. He was a great guy.

Susan Kane - Thanks. I'll try to care for my back though I already have arthritis.

Editor Mouse - *waves hi* Oh do not get me started on clothes. Short and plus-sized both suck and combined too. Ugh, pants... I have to pin mine with safety pins for work. I still get mistaken for high schooler despite the college degree and turning 27 this year. In fact, when the census person came by she actually asked if I was over 14. Like seriously? It is easy to fool people with age in this.

Anonymous said...

One of my characters is short and she keeps comparing herself to other girls, so I worked the insecurity factor in there. I think that's the first time I used height in a manuscript.

Jason Shaw said...

Lovely post, very interesting, height does matter, it really does, the way you describe your work difficulties to do with height put me in mind of a novel I once read that contained the tale of man who was 5'5" peering over his garden wall, that was all of 6 foot! Even in fiction that can't be possible!

Hope you're weekend was filled with happiness.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I've noticed that on the romances I read there is hero "standard" of being tall. They ALL seem to be well over six feet and the heroine always has to stand on her tip-toes to kiss him. LOL

magpiewrites said...

Hi Dawn
what a great blog you have, really thought provoking. In my WIPs I don't think I've thought about the MC heights, so I guess they're 'average' but it's interesting what you say that even average is about perspective - the tall one for one MC might not be very tall at all. I usually find too much physical description distracting in a book, preferring to infer appearance. But height does contribute to what/how a MC does things, especially extreme heights.

In my own life I think I am taller than I am. I can't help myself. My friend, who is 5'6' told me that 5'5 is average for a woman in America. I laughed at her. I'm 5'3" and I'm obviously average or better. I have no science to back up my claim, just pigheadedness. I size myself up with people in stores, on line, in elevators, and I always seem (to myself) to be average. It's just this delusion I have!

Jules said...

Nice insight on height-challenged folks. Being a wee above 5' I so identify and my pants always need hemming :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Dawn Embers said...

Thanks everyone for checking out my blog and commenting.

Medeia Sharif - Interesting. I hope your character learns to be okay with her height.

Jason Shaw - Why thanks. :-) Yeah... that does sound a bit questionable to look over the 6' wall without a log or something. Hope you have/had a good weekend too.

Jennifer Shirk - I haven't read romances but Erin Kane mentioned the need for the female to be shorter than the male in them. Though one my height could probably go for a 5'5" guy and he'd seem tall.

Magpiewrites - Thank you. I was at a conference and a girl said she was short at 5'10" cause her family was taller, so that is a good point. Perspective. You are close to average at least.

Jules - Nice to see someone else who is short. ;-)
Sometimes I buy the "short" pants when they are on sale. I think they are supposed to fall halfway between the knee and ankle but they fit about right on me.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Thank you for bringing to light the important element of height. My characters may actually be suffering from being the exact same size! Yikes! It's a pleasure to meet you from the A-Z Challenge!

Anonymous said...

Nice post...and yes, I do accept that height matters for characters. For me I do mention height and other characteristics, but it is sprinkled across a few pages rather than in a lump of a paragraph. That way I can show their characteristics rather than dump everything in a paragraph of tell!

Anastasia V. Pergakis said...

Awesome post Dawn! I'm 5'3 which is still shorter than average and I too have trouble reaching things in the work place (or even my own house since my hubby is near 6'0). I think I might need to go back through Cleanse Fire and see where I can put some height details in there..esp since the men in my stories always tower over the women (I like very tall men, what can I say?)

Dawn Embers said...

Jeffrey Beesler - I'm glad you liked it. I had that issue in my novel at one point till I started changing them cause having a variety makes things interesting. Nice to meet you as well.

damyantiwrite - Thanks. It's good that you mention characteristics but not all at one paragraph. I'll have to check out your writing.

Anastasia - *waves hi* :-D My stepdad is tall so I can't reach stuff at home either. Even on a chair I couldn't clean the top shelf of the pantry. I bet even having a variety of different "tall" levels could make interesting dynamics of characters.