by MaryLu Tyndall
Character quirks are one of the many things that help create a vision of the character in the reader’s mind. They help separate the character from others in the book and give them a unique visible or internal quality. Let’s face it, in a book, it’s much harder to define and separate characters than it is in a movie. On the screen, it’s obvious who is who because you can SEE THEM! Yet often times, in a book, no matter how much description of the person the author has given, it’s often hard to separate them from others. We authors much work must harder than Screenplay writers to define our characters. So, aside from physical description, which is often forgettable, how do we do it?
One way is by assigning unique and interesting quirks to each character.
What is a quirk? The dictionary defines it as: a peculiarity of action, behavior, or personality; a mannerism.
It’s anything habitual that the character does, says, or acts out, that is unique to him or her and that sets him apart from the other characters.
Examples of quirks: Plays with hair, huffs, scratches face, lifts chin, sweats profusely, always wears a scowl, always negative, quotes from famous books, interrupts, sniffs a lot, clumsy, fearless, rude, limps, extremely organized, stretches neck, paces.
Well, you get the point. Just look around you at family and friends and see if you can pick out at least one quirk each one of them has. For example, I have a girlfriend who is always brushing her bangs aside and her favorite expression is “Don’t get me wrong but…”. My husband is notorious for shaking his head whenever he gets frustrated or is contradicted. My daughter laughs nervously when she doesn’t know what to say.
So, if you want to make your characters real to your reader, you’re must give them quirks. However, it’s important to choose our quirks well. Don’t assign a sniffing quirk to a character who is strong and in command. Don’t assign the “he never bathes” quirk to the hero you want women to swoon over!
As an example, in The Redemption, Charlisse, my heroine, came from an abusive childhood. She was insecure, frightened, unsure, yet also very brave and bold. I gave her the quirk of twirling her hair around her finger when she got nervous.
In my recent release, Surrender the Dawn, the hero Luke is always rubbing his earlobe when he feels guilty. Why? Because he injured it while trying to rescue his parents from a burning building. An attempt at which he failed.
So, choose your quirks wisely. They can be something physical, they can be some unique phrase the character says, or they can just be a certain behavior that sets them apart, as in the heroine I’m writing now. Whenever anyone orders her to do something, she does the opposite!! (I modeled her after myself!)
The important thing is to make them match the character’s personality. And also equally important, don’t OVERUSE them to the point of making your reader toss your book across the room. The goal is to have the reader know who the character is, before you even tell them, just by what he or she says or does.
MaryLu Tyndall, a Christy Award Finalist, and best-selling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series is known for her adventurous historical romances filled with deep spiritual themes. MaryLu currently writes full time and makes her home on the California coast.