Friday, September 18, 2009

Characters & Superstitions

Fleshing out a characters can be a lot of fun. One popular choice, particularly with horror/suspense writers, is to give the character a particular fear that plays into the story. For example they might have a fear of flying and the big confrontation with the glowing aliens from Mars has to happen on the outside of a racing spacecraft over Manhattan. Or they are afraid of the dark, but to confront the villain they have to go down THOSE stairs into the pitch black basement. This often works well, but can also seem a little contrived if the latter scenes are not woven in convincingly.

But there are plenty of other options. One that is a bit of fun is to incorporate a superstition. This got me thinking about superstitions in general and thought it might be fun for people to post their own superstitions or those of friends and relatives. Having something from real life like that adds a real element to fiction.

In terms of my family, the one I remember most distinctly is one of my grandmother's (that's Eileen up on the left). She used to cover all the mirrors in the house during a thunderstorm. She also used to live in fear of birds flying into windows - it would mean that someone in the family was going to die.

There is the old salt over the left shoulder ritual to hit the Devil in the eye if you spill the salt, but that's never been too convincing for me. What's the Devil care about sodium chloride anyway?

For myself - I have one that I have never been able to shake that was passed onto me by my mother. If your ears are ringing, it means someone is talking about you. If it's your left ear it's something bad - if it's your right ear it's something good. You might say I live in fear of left-sided ear infections. This is totally crazy, and yet I can't shake it. It has a spooky king of logic. If my tinnitus worsens I could be in for permanent paranoia.

What superstitions do you have? Or interesting rituals - the more bizarre the better!


RJ_CruzeJr said...

I go by the old Narn adage: "It's bad luck to die on an empty stomach."


C Kelsey said...

I always keep a book of some sort to read for pleasure in the car (currently it's Richard Feynman's QED). I had a very unreliable car two years ago. It left me by the road several times. Each time happened to be one of the extremely rare days that I didn't have a book with me in case I needed to kill time waiting for a tow. So now there's always something to read. Does it work? Not sure. The last time the car broke down on me, I bought a new one. :)

Amanda Green said...

Chris, it sounds as if your family might be a distant branch of my own. To this day, my mother will reach over and snatch up any spilled salt and throw it over her shoulder. Then there's the "tradition" of eating black eyed peas on New Years for good luck -- don't ask me. I think it's a southern thing. The one superstition, for lack of a better word -- of course, irrational fear might be better -- that I have can be directly traced to seeing Day of the Triffids as a young child. To this day, I don't want to watch a meteor shower because, gee, I don't want to go blind and be killed by walking Joshua trees. (Okay, I know it's ridiculous, but it's amazing how things that scare us as kids can still come back to haunt us as adults.)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, RJ. I like that one. And since you never know when you are going to die, it behooves one to do ones best to keep said stomach full, err burp.

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, Chris. I think there is definately something in that. I know for a fact that if I am counting on a red light to give me a chance to look up an address in the road directory - I know for a fact I will get every damn green until I have missed the turnoff!

Chris McMahon said...

Black-eyed peas, eh? I better start stocking up for New Years.

Day of the Triffids was one of those books. What could be more terrifying than waking up blind - no wait - its not just you its the rest of the world - no wait - walking trees want to kill you as well.

One of my favourite lines of all time from from DoTs.

Probably would watch the meteor shower though, although the fear of blindness is no doubt lurking back in the nether regions somewhere.

Kate said...

On the bizarre ritual front, I count. Everything. And often color code and organize as well, but only when it doesn't actually matter. Until I moved to the States and was introduced to the custom of putting everything through the dryer, I'd hang laundry out with the clothes pins organized by color. Then there's the "one-two-THREE" when I'm doing just about anything. Two false starts, semi deliberate, then the real thing. No obsessive-compulsive traits there at ALL (I've been through the psych mill, so I know what all the diagnostic traits look like. Apart from the joys of depression, my glitches don't interfere too much with my life, so I don't fuss over them).

Odd superstitions/fears... Does "If I tidy up and put everything away I'll never be able to find it again" count?

Chris McMahon said...

That's an interesting trait, Kate. Pehaps this explains the interest in vampires? I know one of the folklore books we have claims that if you spill a whole bunch of rice on the floor in front of a vampire they have to stop and count them all before they can move on.

Hey, not that I am saying you are a vampire!

Anonymous said...

Oo, Kate, I hadn't thought about the color coding. Look, making dot pictures with your M&Ms and eating them by color isn't strange is it?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Colour coding pegs. Oh dear. So I'm not the only one!

Kate said...

MataPam, Rowena

No, nothing strange about it at all! And no, you're not the only ones.

C Kelsey said...


My family does ham hocks and black-eyed peas for every New Years for the good luck thing. I have been told that it is a tradition carried of from England. I can't verify. Perhaps Dr. John is familiar with the concept?

Oh, one other thing. The way my mom makes them (my Nana's old recipe)... YUM YUM!