On Novel Creation, the site of my friend and fellow writer Rebecca Walters, she had a post on giving characters quirks. That’s wonderful way to make your characters seem real. It’s not hard to find quirks. Just examine your own life and see if those quirks or variations on them can be assigned to your characters.
Quirks can come in many forms.
Mannerisms: What mannerisms do you have? I’ve noticed that many time when I pray, I run one or both hands through my hair. Characters’ mannerisms can be connected to an activity or emotion, they can reveal or conceal thoughts and feelings. Since my main character has a gift for reading body language, mannerisms are an integral part of my novel. Here is another post I wrote on body language and facial expressions.
Speech: Are there certain words or phrases you use a lot? I use “Shoot” or “Shoot fires”, an exclamation I learned from my dad. I don’t know what “Shoot fires” means, but I still use it. I have one character say “Holy smokin’ cows!” I like the idea of combining “Holy smoke!” and “Holy cow!” to create something unique.
Hobbies: Rebecca mentions giving characters hobbies. If the hobby will be key part of your plot, choose one that interests you. I wrote about this in January. You won’t be able to fake a character’s enthusiasm for a hobby you personally find boring. Unless being bored with a hobby is a key part of your plot. My main character likes to run and reads mythology.
Fears and Hates: Dislikes can be as telling as likes. Indiana Jones was an archaeologist-adventurer with a terrible fear of snakes. The mystery series Monk was built around the main character’s phobias. My main character hates to read fiction but likes mythology and shares a dislike of country music with his cousin, which is unusual in the rural West Virginia county where he lives.
Food: I may raise a few eyebrows by admitting I am a writer who hates coffee. I love the smell but can barely choke it down even with sugar and milk in it. Giving your character strong opinions on food is a fun way to add realism. The gourmet eating habits of the detective Nero Wolfe made up a large part of his character and sometimes major plot points.
Personal habits: Sherlock Holmes kept his tobacco in a slipper. Indiana Jones wore a fedora. We all have particular habits and routines. I don’t like to drive the same route to and from a location if I have a choice. Getting to know a character’s personal habits makes them seem like friends. And a character’s deviation from her normal habits can kickstart a plot. Mystery stories often begin when someone notices a character break a habit for no apparent reason.
As much fun as quirks can be, don’t overdo it. Unless a quirk is critical to your plot, one or two mentions of a quirk is enough. I have my character only use “Holy smokin’ cows!” twice. Junior refers to his love of mythology just twice. Like so much in writing, less is more.