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Writing Exercise: Characters’ Hiccup cures

I got the hiccups today. And according to me, my hiccups are pretty brutal. Not sweet little stirrings that emit cute baby-like breaths that just add to my girlish charm. No, these hiccups shake my entire body. I tell myself that it’s a sign of strong abdominal muscles, but that’s no comfort when I’m trying to stifle sounds like choking hyenas in my throat.

But this is a writing blog. So what do my hiccups have to do with writing? It got me thinking…

Hiccup cures could be a great device for character development. Take The Match Cure offered to me by a (very) young mom with a toddler in the library today. It’s the funniest “cure” I’ve ever heard. She said, “Not for nothing, but the cure in my family was this: ‘Take one of those small Dixie cups with water. Then take a match, light it up, let it burn for a second. Throw it in the cup then drink.'”

I laughed so hard my hiccups were gone.

Laughter wasn’t the intended cure, of course. “Something to do with the sulfur, I don’t know. But it works.” She said. I forgot to ask her if the hiccupper was supposed to drink down the match as well.

As writers, we are always looking for ways to subtlely relay character with as few words as possible. This “cure” told me a lot about this young woman. Her family’s hiccup cure isn’t some warm, fuzzy, “do a ladybug dance around in a circle” group hug. No, her family uses fire. There’s a certain toughness in putting a match in an easily meltable cup, then drinking. And they made children do this. It says a lot about her and her background.

This example plus a small description of her looks (very young mom with a toddler) can start to build the full and life-like portrait of character that readers savor. A line like, “Her hiccup cure involved lighting a match” conveys a hard-edged personality as well as a mystery that makes the reader want to know more about her.

So the assignment for the day is to write a hiccup cure into your work. Slip it in to add to your portraiture of your characters or write a funny scene involving hiccups as comic relief in the middle of a tense situation (like an FBI hostage negotiator getting hiccup tips from the terrorist). If you can’t think of any interesting hiccup cures, just search the web. There are millions of ’em.

Have fun.


P.S. The end of my hiccup saga: A second round of hiccups hit me this evening. I hiccupped through my speech-interrupting laughter as I was explaining The Match Cure to my husband. My husband theorized that a dog turd in a water-filled dixie cup would be just as effective. Ignoring him, I lit a match and breathed in as much sulfur as possible. It worked. My hiccups were gone.