1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Scars and their meanings...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, Feb 5, 2010.

    I was curious as to how y'all think of scars on characters in fictional media?

    I've noticed in some videogame pictures I was checking out on Gamestop.com, various different characters had scars mostly beside or across their eye. (Why is it always the eye? Why can't there be a scar on the arm? Leg? Somewhere besides over the eye?)

    When is it okay to give your character a scar? I know Harry Potter's storyline includes his scar, but I've also read that authors just gave their characters scars because they felt it just made them more tough.

    Personally, I think just slapping a scar on your character just to make him/her appear more tougher is just cheap. They got the scar for a reason. An accident or maybe in a fight and it was the result of being careless. How they react to it and learn from the experience is also crucial.

    I just think unless you plan on having your story/series based around your MC's scarring event, don't give him/her the scar in the first place.

    What do you think?
     
  2. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Over the eye probably because it makes them look more badarse. I did have a character who had a scar run down one of his eyes. He recieved it during an military operation in some third world country and a kid armed with a knife caught him by surprise, but it was after he killed his mother(who was armed with a ak47, which incidentally is for some reason his favorite weapon) It later serves as a reminder that size doesn't determine the outcome of a battle.

    If I give a character a scar it always has some story behind it. Whether its to help show their past or something about the character.

    Because I have to agree. If there is no real significance about a scar why bother put it in in the first place?
     
  3. cboatsman
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    cboatsman Senior Member

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    Scars are symbols and should be dealt with as such. A scar tells a story about the character, and in my opinion the only reason it should be used is if that story helps develop the character you want.

    Maybe your main character has scars littering his back because he was a slave, but he never talks about it because hes ashamed about his past. The scars are revealed when he is wounded in some form of fight and the good matron and her husband find him on the side of the road and when she's aiding his wounds she finds the scars. She feels sorry for him and now you just added more depth to your story and opened up a lot of possibilities. A character having scars on his back simply because he's cool-like-that doesn't really add any depth to the story, as you've said.

    To answer your question about why video game characters have scars across, or near, the eye is because this has been and will probably continue to be a cliche method of adding the "toughness" factor to the character. Scars across the eye have been used tons of times as a symbol of strength or someone who has been in war especially in video games. My advice would be to avoid the infamous eye scar as much as possible, or give your character a glass eye to compensate if you just can't do without.

    The Harry Potter scar was an interesting twist on the whole concept. It had a story behind it, and was actually more than just a scar. In the end, this goes to show that it is up to you as a writer to determine how far you wish to take the scar concept, or how much you want it to be a focal point of your story.

    Scars don't necessarily have to have some epic story either. I have numerous scars on my arms and legs from various things, and by no means are all of them epic. Some of them are as simple as "I fell backwards off a platform and my arm caught a loose screw on the way down. Cut my forearm and left this minor scar."

    All this being said, you have to consider it in the sense of even if your characters have scars, they don't necessarily need to be brought up in description unless they are very major, or have some significance. When I'm describing myself to someone I don't talk about how I have tiny scars on my knuckles, or that I have a scar on my shin. People don't ask either because they aren't apparent. If I had a huge scar all over the half of my face from being in a fire, for example, that's different as it's a lot more apparent to the complete stranger, and actually has some story behind it.

    If it's not apparent and there's no significance then you're safe to leave it out.

    Caleb
     
  4. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    Scars are useful. The important thing to know about a scar is that it's something that is stuck with the character for the rest of their life, and it's physical so other people can see it (unless hidden). You can use your character's scar as a way for other characters to identify them if your story is perhaps in a setting where internet / TV doesn't exist and description of people goes by word of mouth.

    I have a character for example who is a wanderer. He was born into a certain bloodline of fierce warriors that branded all the males born in their family with a certain mark on the back of their right hand. This gave the reputation that this was the mark of the warrior, so anyone seen with this scar was respected as a skilled fighter without the need for them to actually demonstrate any of their ability.

    This is useful because it makes a lot of character to character interactions a lot easier to handle. For example, an old man wants to ask a favor but it's a task that requires someone strong and capable to complete. He wouldn't waste time asking just anyone, but seeing the scar he knows that is a good person to ask because they must be strong.

    That's just one example of how scars can be useful.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you don't have a good reason for it being there, that you share with the readers, don't do it...

    in the old days, a 'dueling scar' was a badge of honor, especially for prussians and germans... the preferred place was on the cheek and no self-respecting member of the teutonic nobility would be caught dead without one [and yes, that was an intended double entendre!]...
     
  6. ang1stokes
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    ang1stokes New Member

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    I rather enjoy reading and listening about people and their scars. Depending on the scars location and the circustances surrounding it, it makes that person uniquely them. My brother hit me in the face with a brick when i was four, now i cant go through security checkpoints with out sounding the alarm because of the metal plate in my face. See unique is the point
     
  7. Irish87
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    Irish87 Contributing Member

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    It's a badge of honor to any warrior-type person. To the rest of us it's seen as ugly and offensive. We've all seen the pictures of the women who've had their faces burned by acid. We sympathize with them, sure, but we also put them in the freak category. They're ostracized and, to a certain extent, hated.

    Personally, however, I view it as a cheap way to show experience through a character that you refuse to do the hard way. The hard way, mind you, is by creating a character who naturally reflects his experience, rather than giving him a giant scar over his eye and a badass name like Rock or Thor. That being said, I'm always preaching against cliches and stereotypes. Maybe I'm too far in to see that it is a valid way of showing experience in life.

    I still say, however, one of the easiest and yet best ways to force emotion from your readers is showing a wounded or scarred child. No child should ever come to harm and when you show that not only have they been hurt but they've lived through it and suffer from it then you're able to draw sympathy from the reader. The unfortunate side effect is that you have to deal with writing about such a thing. Personally, I don't think I could, at least not with my current level of maturity.
     
  8. rory
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    rory Contributing Member

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    I admit it. I'm a sucker for those cliche eye scars. I think they're cool. I don't want one myself, but I've give a few characters them, with good reason and back story, of course. ;)

    I think I agree with what folks are saying about having a reason for the scar, or birthmark for that matter. If there is no real purpose behind it, maybe you don't need it. On the main character anyway.
    Supporting characters, or just people you meet in passing, can have all kinds of imperfections without needing any reason. Just using physical descriptions lets the reader feel they "know" someone when they really don't. Also allows them to be recognized later if they resurface. I heard it said that over describing your characters physical attributes is a no-no, but I think we also sometimes forget the millions of judgment we make when we meet people based on their appearance alone. First impressions have a huge impact. For example, if your MC wants to hire an assassin, but hasn't the cash to get a really good one, you might have the hirlings face covered in scars, so the reader thinks "this assassin is definitely not be the best in the business." (But what is your MC doing hiring assassins anyway?)
     
  9. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Scars on or near the eye are visible. Some people think they give a character 'character'. On some characters a scar can be sexy - like a gal with a scar from the collarbone down to her cleavage or a tough guy with that one across his cheek that makes people wonder where that came from and they fantacize all kinds of wild and off the wall ways he might have gotten it - in a bar fight or military action or fending off three or four bad guys but, in the end, he got it falling off his bike when he was nine years old. Because the scarface is so overdone, however, sometimes it's interesting to provide that character with a scar on a hand or across the side of the wrist or that really ugly on on the back of a shoulder. I find those much more interesting than the "one over the eye" kind of 'not too much thought', 'really kind of boring' type scar.

    Truth is, though, as many have said before me, unless there's a reason for it, don't do it. Don't just throw a scar on 'em to make 'em 'look tough'. If you have to resort to things like that you probably need to work on the whole story a lot more.
     
  10. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have a deep scar on my upper left eyelid. Got hit in the face by a guy with a baseball bat when I was young, splitting the eyelid to the bone against my eye socket. It's my only visible scar, although I carry several "reminders" of my time in Vietnam under clothes. You would be surprised how people look at it after they learn of my war involvement. They make assumptions of a connection between war and the scar, but are too timid to ask about it. I let them speculate...it's amusing.

    The point is, a scar on a character suggests more than should be explained by a writer. It's a valuable tool for adding intrigue and character depth, especially when it receives brief mention and is left up to the reader to fill in the blanks.

    If the scar is relevant to the plot, then, by all means, explain it. Otherwise, a brief mention provides all the stimulus needed for most readers to add their own imagination.
     
  11. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    A scar can also make a character more humble. After all, it's a symbol of mortality. I have a scar on my leg from a motorcycle crash. I was offered to have it surgically removed, but I chose to keep it...it serves as a good reminder that I shouldn't be reckless on a bike. To myself, my scar is a reality check, not a trophy.
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Good posts! =D

    I'm suddenly reminded of an episode in an old Nick show where a girl named Ginger mentioned a scar on her right ear she got when a seagul nipped her. It wasn't all that important, but it did enhance her character somewhat.

    Maybe it makes the characters seem human if they DO have a scar from a minor accident and they or someone else casually mentions it.
     

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