Creating Quirks for Characters

So much work goes into creating believable characters that writers sometimes forget to have fun with the process. One way I’ve discovered to keep from letting character development to become a chore is creating quirks for characters, fun traits that make my characters seem more likable or real or relatable. I believe one of the reasons for Sherlock Holmes enduring popularity is his quirkiness. Fans love that he keeps his tobacco in a slipper and his unread letters stabbed to the mantel with a knife. Those eccentricities make him seem more real because we all have habits that we like but can’t explain why we like them. If I can eventually work a quirk into a plot point, so much the better. Below are six ways to create quirks for characters.

Mannerisms

I’ve noticed that many time when I pray, I run one or both hands through my hair. Also, when I am losing patience but trying to hang onto a few manners, I smooth my eyebrows. Characters’ mannerisms can be connected to an activity or emotion and reveal or conceal thoughts and feelings. My main character Rae in A Shadow on the Snow tugs on her earlobe when she’s thinking.

Speech

Giving characters unique phrases helps their dialogue stand out. 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. My dad was raised in West Virginia, so I gave that phrase to Rae who grew up all over the South.

Hobbies

I try to choose hobbies that for my characters that I know well, I’m interested in, or can develop an interest in. I don’t like fishing, but my youngest loves it. Through this enthusiasm, I’ve learned a lot about fishing and find it easy to create a character who lives to fish.

Fears and Hates

Dislikes can be as telling as likes. The mystery series Monk was built around the main character’s phobias. Rae’s father is sheriff of their rural Ohio county. He’s an imposing man, 6’6”, and grew up on a farm. I thought it would be funny, and humanizing, if he had a fear of horses. It would be especially humorous since his sister and brother-in-law board horses and give lessons. It also gives his brother-in-law something to joke about.

Food

I may raise a few eyebrows by admitting I am a writer who prefers tea to coffee. I gave that preference to Rae. She will also eat pickles for any meal, including breakfast. 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

Getting to know a character’s personal habits makes them seem like friends. Indiana Jones wears a fedora. Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot dresses immaculately and is vain about his magnificent mustache. 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.

Be Aware

Creating quirks for characters are fun, but it comes with pitfalls. I shouldn’t overload my character with quirks, or repeats their quirks too often. They will stop being engaging and become irritating. Even more important, I can’t create a character that’s all quirks and no substance. Sherlock Holmes has held the fascination of fans for over a century because a deep personality supports the quirks. I’ve read stories where a character is nothing but a collection of cute habits. So he or she is not really character. No internal structure exist on which to hang all these quirks.

Who are some of your favorite quirky characters? What quirks have you given your characters?

Thumbnail Character Sketch

This month’s theme is probably my favorite. My site is all about characters in May. I’m a character writer. A setting can inspire me, or a plot can intrigue me, but if I don’t have characters in mind for them, those inspirations just languish in the back of my imagination. One technique I’ve learned when I want to make sure my characters act and perform differently from each other is to write a thumbnail character sketch for them. A sketch includes two or three adjectives and a noun.

I build most of my characters from faces that my imagination thinks have potential. So today’s prompt is a portrait that caught my attention because of the young man’s expression. Below is my sketch:

Observant, dry-humored college student

For more on using thumbnail sketches, click here. What thumbnail character sketch would you write for this photo?

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Amy C. Blake

SONY DSCI’m so excited about May’s theme, creating characters, that I’m starting a day early! Here to discuss characters in her latest release is YA fantasy and suspense writer, Amy C. Blake. Welcome, Amy!

Which comes first when creating a story – characters, plot, or setting?

I usually have some idea of plot and setting, but I need to know my main character in great detail before I can do much with a story. Since what happens in the plot depends so heavily on my protagonist’s personality and background, I’d say character is the most important factor for me.

Do you use a different approach for villains and heroes?

My hero is a critical part of my story, so I get to know him/her completely before I start writing. While I also need to know my villain thoroughly, that character is somewhat dependent on my hero. In other words, I want my villain to be the best antagonist to fit my hero. For instance, in my Levi Prince series (my new release The Fay’s Apprentice is the third book in that series), Hunter is the perfect villain for Levi. Hunter is rich, self-confident, and insolent. Levi is poor, gawky, and self-conscious. In addition, the ancestors of the two boys shared a similar antagonism to theirs, a factor Levi is only beginning to understand by his third summer in Terracaelum.

Who was the easiest character you’ve created? Who was the most difficult?

The easiest character is a toss-up between Patience from Whitewashedand Levi from my Levi Prince series. Patience was easy because I tend to be impatient like she is. Levi was easy because he’s a homeschooled pastor’s kid like my own children. Christy from Colorblind was the most difficult because she’s super sweet but was also not a believer during much of the story.

What do you think is the key for creating main characters that readers can relate to?

I think it’s key that my main characters be real. They need to be basically likable people but with at least one flaw many readers share. As I mentioned earlier, Patience tends to be impatient. Many of us battle that tendency as well, so she’s relatable. However, Patience isn’t just impatient. She’s also kind to a young mother trying to pacify twin babies on an airplane, and I’m careful to show that side of her personality before I show her flaw(s).

What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration for a character?

My main characters are all homeschoolers, something I haven’t seen in the mainstream or Christian markets. As a homeschooling mom of four, I wanted to show that home educated kids are well-rounded, likable but flawed individuals, just like everybody else.

To follow Amy, visit her at the following sites:

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FaysApprentice_FlatOn Levi’s third summer at Camp Classic, he’s torn between two responsibilities. On the one hand, his parents expect him to watch over his little sister Abby, who has no clue their summer camp is a haven for mythical creatures. On the other hand, Mr. Dominic wants him to train at Fort Terra, a full day’s hike away from his sister, because of Levi’s previous encounters with the demon sorcerer Deceptor. Although he enjoys training with his friends, Levi finds life at Fort Terra difficult thanks to the ongoing tension between him and Hunter and the stress of having his former kidnapper Regin as his chaperone. When the woman Regin claims to be the evil sorceress Anna appears, Levi faces a whole new challenge. (Book 3 in the Levi Prince series)

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Award-winning author Amy C. Blake is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four. She has an M.A. in English from Mississippi College and has written articles, devotionals, and short stories for a number of publications. She’s also writing two series for the Christian market, her Levi Prince YA fantasy series and her On the Brink Christian suspense trilogy.

WhitewashedColorblind, and Tie-Dyed, featuring three homeschooled girls on the brink of adulthood…and danger, are available in paperback and Kindle. The Trojan Horse TraitorThe Fall of Thor’s Hammer, and The Fay’s Apprentice, about homeschooled pastor’s kid Levi Prince and his adventures in Terracaelum, are also available in paperback and Kindle. She’d love for you to visit her website at amycblake.com.

 

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