This may seem like a strange post, so bare with me. Keep in mind, I am 6’2″ – the same size or shorter than many characters in current fiction.
I just got a new showerhead – one of those with a cord. It sits in a cradle making it about 7 inches taller than my previous showerhead. This is the first time since I was 12 that I had a showerhead as tall as I am. An inch higher and I could stand under it, something I haven’t done since I was 11. What I realized is that I’m not really used to showering with the water coming out at face level. Sure, I don’t have to bend or crouch to get the shampoo out of my hair, but I’m use to the water hitting my chest – to having dry eyes unless I go out of my way to alter that.
So why did I bring this up? Because details like this are missed in a lot of novels and movies. Height alters a lot of things. A male hero does some deed and takes a shower, letting the water run across his face to clean the sin away. That’s got to be a short hero or an uncommonly high showerhead.
These details are missed, a lot. There are plenty of places where you see accommodations for shorter people (my favorite is the bar in Silverado), but writers seem to forget accommodations for tall people. I don’t fit on a single or full bed – queen and up for me. I can’t push the average stroller without bending, same goes for lawn mowers. I have to bend down to walk into most sheds. Chandeliers and ceiling fans are always a point of concern, at least until I verify I can or cannot make it under them. Head rests on recliners often push on my shoulders in a very uncomfortable fashion. My knees normally push against train, bus, and theater seats. I couldn’t drive most of the early mini-pickups. I’m not saying life is bad for me, just a little different than someone who is three inches shorter.
These details (notice the repetition from the above paragraph) can bring a reader into a story when done well, or out of a story when done poorly or ignored. Height is just one detail. What about people who are colorblind, suffer through arthritis, are obese, fight (or give into) addictions, have allergies, is missing a limb, lost sight, can’t hear, suffer fears, acts impulsively, has ADHD, and so on? Do you really know the details that matter? When creating a character significantly different than yourself, don’t hesitate to find someone similar to your character and observe them, ask questions, and maybe even let them read a scene or two.
Don’t let something as simple as a showerhead ruin the realism you have built.