Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I'll Show You My Quirks if You Show Me Yours

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Laying the foundation for a character in your novel is one of the most important things you will do as a writer. You want your characters to be easy to relate to and believable. Getting the basics down is easy—what does your character look like? How old are they? Where do they live? But once you have the foundation laid, it’s time to breathe some life into them and make them memorable---give them some quirks.

I love quirks in a character because it makes them layered, unique, and realistic. For example, Indiana Jones is a handsome, brash adventurer, but he’s afraid of snakes. He’s strong, yet vulnerable. Or, when we are introduced to Meg Ryan’s character in French Kiss, she’s trying to overcome her fear of flying. Her character likes to plan and is sure of her relationships, but she has that vulnerability about her that endears her to the audience. There’s just something more human about a character when they have a little quirk. It reminds your reader of someone they know and brings memories to their mind, which makes it easier for them to picture the character. It just breathes life into the story.

So I thought we could have some fun today and make our own list of possible character quirks. I will start it, then in the comment trail, you add your ideas.

Has a ring she fidgets with all the time
Hates small spaces
Twirls hair when nervous
Low threshold of patience
A throat clearing tic
Chews his nails
Enjoys cleaning
Gets migraines
Is an insomniac
Loves to sit on the floor
Refuses to shake hands with people
Enjoys arguing over anything
Will only make right hand turns while driving
Is frightened of birds
Has a lucky shirt
Loves to juggle
Children make him nervous
Loves to read tabloids
Eats a bagel at precisely 8:00 a.m. every morning
Won’t step on cracks in the sidewalk
Picks their teeth
Loves to jog at night
Rolls pens across knuckles when bored
Needs to know the time at all times
Loves to use big words on people
Is frightened of doctors
Doesn’t know how to drive
Has never cut her hair
Loves food—especially junk food
Is afraid of the dark
Chews inside of cheek when stressed
Can’t wear the same clothes more than once
Slouches constantly
Doesn’t smile wide enough to show teeth
Afraid of heights
Talks a lot
Wave hands around when they talk
Loves to floss
Constantly check return slots on every vending machine they see
Hates chocolate
Refuses to use a microwave
Can’t swallow pills
Blow into a cup before using
Terrified of bridges
Laughs during stressful times

Can you think of any more? What characters in books have stood out to you because of their quirks?


At 3/12/2009 2:01 PM, Blogger Lucy said...

One of my favorites is what Traci Hunter Abramson did with the main female character in her Undercurrents trilogy. When she was really upset or mad, she went swimming. At one point, someone even got her mad deliberately so that she would leave the house. It was cute the way the character trait became an intregal part of the story.

At 3/12/2009 2:27 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

I want to see a chick lit book where the heroine hates chocolate. And ice cream. When she's stressed by the men/lack of men in her life, she could indulge in cheese sticks and chicken tikka masala.

I once had a character who played with a ring. The ring had belonged to her deceased mother, so having the character fiddle with it when she was nervous--and the fact that she wore her mother's wedding band--helped give a glimpse of who she was.

In trying to flesh out a minor character, I gave him the quirk of playing with a handful of tiny magnets that he carried around with him.

Great blog, Julie.

At 3/12/2009 3:00 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I was about the say the opposite of Stephanie, but only because I can't imagine connecting to a character who hates chocolate.

Must be a communist too. :D

At 3/12/2009 3:18 PM, Anonymous Meredith Dias said...

Hey, Julie! I think that my Pittsburgh-Pirates-loving, junk food junkie, Mel Brooks aficionado protagonist is quirky enough, right?

In response to Stephanie: I would also love to read a chick lit book wherein turning 30 isn't some dreadful, cataclysmic event. It seems as if every single chick lit heroine I've encountered has a psychotic break once the big 3-0 approacheth. Also, I agree that it would be lovely if chicken tikka masala scored some much-deserved recognition!

At 3/12/2009 3:22 PM, Blogger Th. said...



Liking the Pirates makes you quirky?

Crap. And I was already overquirked....

At 3/12/2009 3:35 PM, Anonymous Meredith Dias said...

Don't worry. It's the good kind of quirky! And probably a lot less painful a quirk to have than being a Seattle Mariners fan these days. (My condolences/apologies to any Mariners fans who may be reading this blog.)

At 3/12/2009 6:52 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

Has to wear socks. Even in the summer.

Refuses to wear socks.

Tucks candy wrappers behind couch cushions.

Always checks the back seat before getting in a car.

Refuses to go out after dark.

Has to have her Big Gulp.

Instead of chocolate, has to have Rice Chex to munch on.

Wait a minute. Why am I sharing my best ideas??

At 3/12/2009 7:29 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks for all your great ideas, Karlene. I wrote them down. :)

Meredith and TH I like the good kind of quirky.

Annette, do you mean your character's quirks are they are communist and love chocolate? Just making sure.

Stephanie, I like those quirks. The magnet one is very unique. I'd heard of playing with change in the pockets, but not magnets.

Lucy, Traci has a way with characters that I really enjoy, too!

Thanks for all of your comments, everyone!

At 3/12/2009 7:32 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I meant that anyone who doesn't like chocolate must be communist. Kidding, of course.

At 3/12/2009 7:35 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Well, I'm glad I checked then. Haha

At 3/12/2009 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have one who likes to wash dishes (the old fashioned way when she's upset.)
I'm thinking the next one will talk to dead people...

At 3/13/2009 3:20 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Dang, I see eight of my own quirks on the list. =(

The problem I noticed when designing my "hero" character is that I totally gave him MY quirks! I wasn't doing it consciously, but there it was when I got done. (Someone tell me it's a common trap of first-time writers?)

--wishes he had a cool nickname like "Doc" (tried to give himself a cool nickname, but it didn't stick)

--reads blogs of people he doesn't know (blog stalking)

--spelling/grammar Nazi (should that be capitalized? Is anal retentive hyphenated?)

--loves to drive with the windows down

Jon "Magic" Spell

At 3/14/2009 2:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well... I don't have any ideas:( but I just thought it was funny that as I read the list I saw more than ten quirks that describe me:D haha

At 3/15/2009 3:20 PM, Blogger Noble M Standing said...

I didnt realize that my MC is an insomniac, but he is and I should play on it more, especially in the second book. He needs more quirks hmmmmmmm.....
I have a pale skinned redhead that blushes all the time, she hates that her emotions are written on her face, her husband loves that she is passionate and it shows. :)


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