Monday, April 30, 2012

Character Quirks

One of my favorite thing to add to characters are little character quirks which differentiate one character from...say a barbie doll stand in.

People are weird. I can't be the first person to tell you that.

Vortex of missing phones eats another victim.
Like me for example, I can't not lose my cell phone. Anytime I put the phone on silent, I will (without choice, and without meaning to,) set it down somewhere and lose it. It's actually kind of funny.

But mostly it's expensive.

 So now, I always have the volume up. It's not generally a problem, because most people call my home number. My cell phone actually rings, but only at church, or during the movie, or anytime when silence is required.

Feel free to give any character you want, that random quirk.

I've had characters always have to wear gloves. I've had characters always have different color band aids on all if their fingers, or characters who sing in the car, or always walk around barefoot, or who always have a deck of playing cards in their back pocket, which they like to shuffle when bored, or nervous. Characters can send spam emails of kittens, or compulsively check Facebook, or to see if they have any text messages. Characters can wake up early to do yoga, or have five alarms, because one just doesn't cut it.

Do these habits further the plot. No. Do these quirks give insight into the character, not always no. But they do make the character more interesting, more remarkable, and most important, more real.

Think of Nynaeve, from Jordan's Wheel of Time, how she always pulled her braid. These quirks can be a tell into a characters emotion. Or Brad Pit's character in Ocean's eleven+  who was always eating. Every scene. Eating something. It could just give the character something to do.

They can also be a tell into the characters psyche. My character who always wore gloves was ashamed that she wasn't married, so she wore gloves to cover up her ring finger.

I never mentioned why she always wore gloves, but all the clues were there. To someone who was paying attention, these little quirks added depth to the character and to the story. But if they didn't catch it, it didn't change the plot. It was also cool, how at the end she was married and didn't wear gloves.

That quirk told a story. It told her story.

Plus it's fun, and a way to use your people watching as a way to deepen characters. Quirks can be borrowed. And thank heavens, in real life, people are weird.

(Insert Evil Laugh Here).



  1. Excellent advice. People are weird. I can't give or follow verbal directions to places. I can know exactly where someplace is and how to get there, but I can't explain how to get there. I can draw an awesome map though. :)

    I don't think I've ever given my characters quirks. At least not consciously. Something to think about.

  2. I like it when an author gives his/her character quirks. J.V. Jones wrote a wonderful antagonist, Vaylo Bludd, who was always sucking on his decaying teeth. I haven't read that series in years, but I still think of him sometimes (especially when I have to go to the dentist.) He did it as a soothing gesture, which usually was a sign that he was stressed or upset. It was a very human act, and made him a sympathetic figure compared to the other antagonists. That has stuck with me over the years, even when many of the other characters have faded to the background.

  3. Hermione can't stop herself from answering questions. Harry's dad always ran his fingers through his hair, and sometimes Ron does that too. Ron talks with his mouth full and can never get enough to eat. These things are so ingrained in their personalities that I never even noticed them until I read this post. It's kind of fun to think about the character quirks of people in the Harry Potter world--she was a master of adding them.

    Great post!

  4. Fun post! In my WIP some of my characters have little quirks or habits, but I do think I could make them more interesting, and/or more telling re: their psyche.

    Love the blog - new follower!

  5. Excellent advice. And for some reason, something I've never really thought through. Hmmm, now I'm going to have to revisit a few characters. Great post.

  6. Not a bad idea though I wonder if editors might think this belongs in the 'unnecessary' part of the text, something that should be trimmed out because it doesn't contribute to the larger plot.


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