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  • Eric Noon

Sometimes, It is Just Something to Sneeze At!

Updated: Apr 7

Have you sneezed at all in the past day or so? Well, if you have, first of all, bless you, but also did you know that you’re deathly ill and only have about a week or so left to live? At least, that’s what many stories would lead you to believe.

You see, there seems to be an unwritten golden rule in writing that if a character sneezes, or coughs, or does anything along these lines, that it’s either played for comedy, or an omen of terrible things to come. How often have you read something, or watched something where a character will have a hearty cough, and the surrounding characters will ask them if they’re okay only for it to escalate later to the point that they’re bedridden and have a deadly disease? It happens more often than you’d think! But why is that?

Writing presents these perfect, always healthy characters until they have to be shown to be sick. If a character is to be sick, it has to be denoted or foreshadowed by something, and in most cases, that comes in the way of a quick sneeze or a mild cough, until it turns into something larger. But real life isn’t quite like that is it? Sometimes we just randomly sneeze, sometimes we just have to clear our throats with a cough, or sometimes we really are starting to get sick, but it’s not life-threatening!

I’d like to offer the chance for us to write characters a little more candidly, characters that don’t have to deliver lines with grace all the time or characters that are just simply existing as you and I are. Because who hasn’t talked to their friends about something and then got interrupted by an awkward sneeze, or a yawn on a late night? In an effort to make stories more streamlined and elegant, we’ve neglected some minor elements that can make it feel like we’re actually sharing the same space as some of our favorite characters. Now, I’m not saying we have to have characters sneeze every twenty minutes, or have an immersion breaking cough that really interrupts the flow of the narrative, but by allowing characters these minor bodily functions we allow them the chance to be truly human.

So, next time you’re watching or reading something, try and see if a character sneezes or coughs and it is just treated as a matter of no concern and also not played for comedy. This might be harder than it seems! And if you’re a writer, try even just once to allow a character one of these bodily functions, not worrying about making them perfect or ruining the story for it, because the truth of the matter is, we really do just sneeze sometimes. And if you did while reading this, bless you!

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