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Mr. Potato Head On Writing
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As I struggled to come up with a description for a minor character I suddenly remembered Mr. Potato Head.

I'm old enough to recall when he was a real potato. Now he's just a plastic fraud. Calls himself a potato but he's got no starch. At some point whoever decides such things came to the conclusion that those vicious plastic spikes on the backs of the assorted facial features posed an unacceptable risk. To whom I'm not sure. Amazing as it may seem, even very young children have the ability to stick bulbous noses and floppy ears onto a potato without injuring themselves, except maybe hurting their sides laughing. I reckon kids had more chance getting injured falling down on the playground than they did while playing with Mr. Potato Head.

Besides, the whole point of Mr. Potato Head, I would've thought, was not that you were creating a funny face, but creating a funny face on a potato.

I guess if you're supplying minor characters with physical descriptions, it isn't good to have a Mr. Potato Head flashback. Let's see, shall I stick on some big lips or small ones? Round eyes or squinty? How about glasses? Now, what kind of hat should I use on? They're all funny hats, of course.

Part of my problem is I don't have a very big box of features with which to work. I tend to think of the same ones and the same types. Nose shape, hair color. That might be due to the fact that when I read I don't pay a lot of attention to physical descriptions, even for major characters, unless they are very exaggerated (i.e. Nero Wolf or Blind Pew) and/or play some important role in the story (i.e...uh...the Man in the Iron Mask...or Gully Foyle)

When I read exquisite descriptions of the angle of the cheekbones and the shape of the chin and lips and the type of ears, not to mention the precise shade of the eyes and estimated number of hairs in the eyebrows, I immediately forget every detail and picture the character as looking like I'd expect a person to look who does whatever the character does and thinks the way the character thinks.

In the end it is probably more important to give minor characters some life, let them say or do a little something, rather than depending on physical descriptions. Give them some juice, like a real potato, in other words, instead of a soulless lump of plastic.

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