Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday Tropes: The Number One Dime

There's this girl who wears this junkie watch, something she would have gotten from a cereal box. Despite offering a new one, she keeps on wearing it. Perhaps she's a bit obsessed over this watch, or maybe there's something more important to it than she's been letting on ...

You can guess where this trope gets its name from.

The Number One Dime - an everyday item that has very little value to most people, but it has been infused with great sentimental value. This item is often regarded to be very important to its owner, if not overly important, to the point that this owner would have a nervous breakdown if their item were lost or stolen. Word for the wise - don't mess around with someone's Number One Dime.

This item could be just about anything, but it is often associated with childhood memorabilia. It gets interesting when another child starts to play with it, even if the owner of the item is an adult now.

"I won't let that baby get you, Hugsy!"

This sentiment might be well known to others, which is bound to offer up some needed morale when the owner asks you to throw it. Expect him to have you fetch it immediately afterwards, however.

"I said 'throw my hat,' not 'chuck it as hard as you can!'"

There's a great many ways this trope can be used, like serving as a memory of an important moment in your life or a life-changing event. Furthermore, this trope happens all the time, especially in real life.

Take this stuffed bear for example. His name is Dr. Bear, and he's mine (mine, I tell you!). What's so special about him? I received this toy as a toddler, after having surgery to remove Osteomyelitis from my leg. Nearly 28 years later, it serves sentimental value and offers a reminder, "I almost lost my leg." Having that on my conscience as a child put my mortality into perspective. Imagine the impact objects can have on a character.

But seriously, no touching my bear. Savvy?

The common use of this trope is a display of bullies playing keep away from its owner (which is something of a cliché), but there are more original ways to implement The Number One Dime for both plot and character development. The trick is finding the item and a story for it.

Do you have a Number One Dime in your personal life? Any of your characters from your stories? Have you seen Dr. B's stethoscope?

I'm David, and if you value your life, don't lose Linus' blanket ...


  1. I have a character in my ms that has to have fingernail polish. It's her dime. ;) As for me. I have a stuffed yellow chick. It sits on my shelf to remind me to be happy when times are hard.

  2. I don't think I have anything like that in my current WIP. The other WIP though, there's a watch. Personally, there's this Monchichi and Sebastian, the Purple Pig.

  3. Oh I really like this one. In fact I have a story just waiting to be written where this is the main story line. great examples!

  4. I don't have anything in my current manuscript. Not sure I really have anything in my personal life. (I'm not much for possessions.) I'd say my guitar, but it's not that old.

  5. That is one shiny dime. Would Linus' blanket be considered a number one dime? And in my sequel, I have one of these but it takes the form of a red sports cap.

    1. A red sports cap? That's a great example.

      Linus' blanket? Most definitely. :)

  6. I have a stuffed cow named Melvastyke (I was a strange kid) that still sits on my bed to this day. My long-suffering-husband can attest to my continued attachment to this little guy... who was, and still is, a very valuable reminder on seeking out the silver-linings in life.

  7. Good post. In the book I'm shopping around I have something that was meaningless but gains emotional value as the character grows. It's not a huge part of the book, more of a side note.

  8. Great examples there. I think we all have or have had those items. When I was a little girl I used to have monsters living in my closet and under my bed. I had a huge stuff dog and a huge stuffed skunk I imaginatively named Pepe Le Pew. Those two critter diligently protected me every night from the monsters. I was crushed when I went away to college and returned home to find that my dad and stepmother had thrown them away--not just put them away but chucked them without my permission.

    Yeah. Forty years later and I'm still bitter.

    I'm pathetic!

  9. Hmm. I can't think of any serious Number One Dimes that my characters have--though I do have one main character who is protective of a book she owns (books, in the setting, are rare).

  10. A character in my current WIP likes to wear a leather band round her wrist, she never takes it off so I guess that's her dime.

  11. I've used this in the past, but only subconsciously. I love finding new ways to bring my characters to life and being more aware of this tool is great Thanks!

    As a side note, my favorite example of this is the earring in the Mistborn trilogy that the character Vin always wears (if you don't know what I'm talking about, go check it out, author is Brandon Sanderson).

  12. Hmm, this is a great trope. Sentimental value is so much more powerful than monetary value. Makes for a great story! Think about the scrap of marriage cloth from Braveheart.

  13. I love this. I've never used it consciously before, though there's sort of a number one dime in my agented book. Now my wheels are turning for my WIP. Thanks!