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?

What’s the Story Behind This Expression?

For the character prompt today, I’d love to hear your ideas for the story behind this expression.

I imagine that this man has worked hard his whole life. Maybe a fisherman or a farmer. He looks wary and suspicious. For many years, he’s carried a secret. He’s listening to a conversation and is worried that one of the people may stumble onto his secret. He’s uncertain what to do.

For more character prompts, click here.

Now it’s your turn. How does this photo inspire a character for you?

What’s the Relationship?

My theme for February is love and friendship. So what’s the relationship between the four characters in this photo? Yes, I think the horses are characters. Here’s where my inspiration took me:

“You can pet them.” I held out my hand and patted Bailey on the forelock.

My cousin didn’t move, like he’d become part of the rock we were sitting on. “I don’t want to.”

I gritted my teeth. I’d showed Aiden everything, absolutely everything, he could do on the farm, and he didn’t want to do anything. But Mom said I had to be nice.

“They won’t bite.” I bet all city kids think horses bite.

Aiden slid off the rock and ran back toward the house.

“And he’s gonna be here all summer,” I told Bailey and his mom, Smudge. “What am I supposed to do with him?”

From here, I can take the story two directions. Which do you prefer?

Smudge tossed her head like she didn’t know either while Bailey nuzzled me.

or

“Well, if you let us say something to him,” said Smudge, “maybe we could help.”

For another character writing prompt, click here.

Prompts for NaNoWriMo

I have character prompts for NaNoWriMo today! For me to build a character, I usually have to find a face, a face that intrigues me and suggests a certain kind of personality. I went through Pixabay, looked at portraits, and selected some to share here. If you are stuck for a character during NaNoWriMo, check in here and see if these pictures can inspire you! I’d love to hear what sparks these photos ignite in your imagination.

I used the face of this little girl for a supporting character in my WIP novel, A Shadow on the Snow. Her name is Coral, she’s eleven, and she’s very practical and loves animals.
The expression on the young woman’s face caught my attention and my imagination. She inspired another character, Egypt. She’s hot-tempered and reckless but can be fiercely loyal.

Turning People into Characters

Have you ever tried turning people into characters?

At a writing conference, author James Rubart talked about how he had a friend, whom he turned into a character for a novel. He didn’t adapt his friend’s personality or made any other adjustments. He just plunked him in as is.

I don’t have the courage to do that. I figure I’d describe a friend in some way he or she didn’t like and I’d offend them. But most of the characters we writers create contain some aspect we’ve seen in real people.

Such as my oldest’s kindergarten teacher. This woman personified patience and even temperament. She seemed more than able to handle any crisis her students could concoct.

Kindergarten Teacher, speaking in a completely bland voice:

“Now, Aiden, you shouldn’t set fire to the classroom. You’ll get a demerit for it. Children, Aiden has set fire to the room. Please line up at the door so we can leave quickly.”

I’ve been working with a character who has that kind of calm, unflappable personality, although she isn’t a kindergarten teacher. For this character, I’m mixing the kindergarten teacher with a woman from my church.

Who are some people who would work as prompts for characters?

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