Friday, January 20, 2012

Tis a Writer's Life for me! Character Quirks!

Happy Friday, everyone! Well, I received my galleys for Veil of Pearls this week, so I was forced to drop my writing on Forsaken Dreams and switch into edit mode once again. This is my LAST CHANCE to make any minor changes to the manuscript. And they mean minor! I can't change anything bigger than a comma or a word or small phrase.  Wanaaaaa!  I can't tell you how hard that is!

Anyhow, I wanted those of you who are dieting with me in the new year to know that I've lost a whopping 3 pounds! Yes, you heard it here first. LOL.  But hey, it's better than gaining, right?  Besides it's hard for my petite 5'1" frame to lose weight.. My body fears it will soon be starving and fights the loss with everything it's got!

But I digress. Today I want to talk with you about character quirks.  Yes I said quirks. 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, I have trouble separating them from others. We authors much work must harder than Screenplay writers to define our characters. So, aside from phyiscal description which is often forgetable, 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 that the character does, says, or behaves like, 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 alot, 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 has. I bet if you really observe them, you'll have no trouble in finding at least one. 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 had 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 going to have to give them quirks. However, it's important to choose our quirks well. Don't assign a sniffing quirk with 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 always playing with her hair 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 or they can be some unique phrase the character says or they can just be a certain behaviour 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!)  Or, it could be a combination of all those things. 

The important point 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.  

Clear as the bilge?


  1. Fri Jan 20th,
    "Afternoon, MaryLu." (Afternoon here in Ontario, Canada ... but still morning in CA.)
    Well .. this giving your characters - quirks, is still a handful to look after ! But, I guess that is how you (and we) keep each one distinguishable (if there is such a word). Plus, it makes the characters far more human and "relatable" ! For, we "all" have quirks of some sort.
    Very interesting, MaryLu !!!
    Hope the editing is going well ... making "minor" changes. Yes, that would be difficult.
    And, "congrats" on losing weight ... any amount !!! No, I haven't gone on the scales yet ... probably fearful to do so !
    Thanks for sharing, and, have a great weekend.
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. Hello there! Well, I have no doubt that you will turn in Veil of Pearls in no time at all.
    And congrats on losing the weight! As a woman, I can tell you that is no small feat.
    Good lesson in 'quirks'. And I can tell you that it was 'clearer' than the bilge. :)

  3. You'll do great with Veil of Pearls ;) :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

  4. Thanks Ladies!! Love and hugs to all of you! I appreciate you all SO MUCH!! If I didn't have you, I'd feel like I was sailing the seas all by me lonesome. ;-)

  5. Quirks definitely add dimension to characters and the story itself. I think it’s a trademark in your books! The quirks in your books are like a key to his/her past - the story inside the story.

    Here are a few quirks I’ve noticed.
    -wardrobe of one color “Head in the Clouds” by Karen Witemeyer
    -a lisp “To Win her Heart” by Karen Witemeyer
    -trying to solve problems by quoting from romance novels “Deep in the Heart of Trouble” by Deeanne Gist
    -good memory “The Apothecary’s Daughter” by Julie Klassen
    -being a collector, thus her nickname “Magpie” -“Serendipity “ by Cathy Marie Hake
    -getting hiccups when nervous “Letter Perfect” by Cathy Marie Hake

  6. I've definantly noticed character quirks clearly in all of your books, MaryLu! I just love observing real people and watching for their quirks. I noticed that I myself have a few: when I'm nervous I push my glasses further up on my nose and laugh like crazy :D

  7. Great post, MaryLu! I enjoyed it.

  8. Jennie, those are great examples!! See how these quirks remain in your mind? And now we know who are your favorite authors too! LOL

    Heather, that's a great quirk! May I use it for one of my characters? ;-)

    Thanks Gwendolyn! Glad you stopped by.

  9. Of course; please do! LOL :D

  10. MaryLu, I definitely have noticed those quirks you're talking about, in your characters. And for a while I thought a few of them were sort of odd, like I remember one of your male characters always rubbing an old scar, and I wondered, why does he always do that? But I realized, if I was watching a movie and they did that, or someone I knew in real life did that, it'd be totally different. It's just because I'm reading it, it makes it more obvious. And I don't think I would think of assigning quirks if I was a writer. So good job, once again, on making your characters so dynamic and realistic!! :)
    If you ever need ideas for quirks, I'm sure you could ask all of us readers! Lol.

  11. Sometimes I do need quirks, Sarah.. I run out of ideas!! Great idea to ask my readers. I'll do that next time!

  12. I love quirks! It makes observing people so much fun. When I'm nervous, play with any jewerly I happen to be wearing-my earrings, necklace, bracelet. But if I'm not wearing any, I usually bite my nails. Bad habit, I know. OH! My sister pointed out that sometimes I make my own "sound effects": Like I'll be humming or something when I wash dishes, when I write, walk, or do my chores. I must be doing it subconciously, because I can never seem to catch myself doing that until my family points it out. :D