Making appropriate use of quirkiness in our characters

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Recently Jeanette Levellie had us sharing our pet peeves and Jessica Patch talked about our quirks. They were referring to those things that either annoy us or seem peculiar. The thing is, neither is unusual. Don’t we all have them?

I admit to some idiosyncrasies (only the unkind would say they border on OCD). When doors and drawers are meant to be shut, I like them closed all the way. Sliding closet doors that are left slightly ajar force me into corrective action, even when I’m already in bed. Honestly, do you expect me to sleep with that gaping void staring at me all night? Bifold doors and open drawers that snag me as I walk by, beg to be slammed shut. Cushions askew on the couch, and towels crooked on the rod? Need I say more?

If normal people have quirks (hey! I’m normal… at least in most areas), isn’t it logical that our characters not only might, but should, too?

There is a danger in creating stereotypes – for instance, looking at physical features and bronzing the hero’s brawny chest while scarring the antagonist’s cheek. A lot is written about using character flaws to make our protagonists real, but to accomplish realism takes more than simply portraying random weaknesses and strengths.

Personalities are complex – just ask anyone who has examined the results of a Myers-Briggs test. If we are to develop credible characters we need them to display the kind of strengths and weaknesses that we would find in real people but also have a few quirks to make them memorable. Not too many. Just a few, such as we all have.  (I hear you objecting, but I’m almost positive I’m not alone with mine.)

The Myers-Briggs test divides us into four main personality types that can be combined in multiple ways to create sixteen:

  1. Extrovert (E) versus introvert (I),
  2. Sensitive (S) versus intuitive (N),
  3. Thinking (T) versus feeling (F), and
  4. Judgmental (J) versus perceptive (P).

We can’t just pull quirks out of the proverbial hat and assign them to our characters. The quirks or idiosyncrasies need to be reasonably in line with the characters’ personalities.

Who’d have guessed that making our characters appear real could be so much of a challenge?

In your current w.i.p., what quirks does your main character have? Do they fit his/her personality? Are they ones you possess or have you borrowed them from people you know?

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16 thoughts on “Making appropriate use of quirkiness in our characters

  1. catchats says:

    I just love it when a character I’m reading has quirks and flaws. My MC in one of the novels I’m plugging away at is not very assertive and a bit of a wimp. My crit partners say he needs more backbone. But, hey, that was me as a teen. I was a bit of a wimp sometimes and I let people push me around. I would hope I’m not as bad now. Hope anyhow! :)P

    You’d hate my place, Carol with all the clutter and all the doors ajar. It would drive you nuts.

    Thanks for the link to the Myers Brigg. Think I may try that test again since I’m trying to decide what to do career wise as my jobhunting is not going too well. Not that I’m pounding the pavement but the last few things I applied for have resulted in zilch.

  2. territiffany says:

    I love this. In my last book, I really put this idea to use. My character had fears of dying and was a sort of hypochondriac—looking up her aches in a medical book. Um, yes, I’ve done this too.

  3. lauradroege says:

    In my first novel, I had a very artistic/creative young woman who did dumpster diving and tore up old T-shirts and knit them into scarfs–with turkey basters. Does this count as a quirk? And both she and her mother are obsessed with Moby-Dick; the mother is a literature professor, if that helps explain it. (I wrote my thesis on MD, and worked in some imagery from this novel into my novel. Subtly, of course!)

  4. Judith Robl says:

    Thought provoking entry today. Thanks for the links. You may have saved my current WIP from too flat characters. I’ve been struggling with character dimension. Never thought about quirks. Great post!!

  5. I love Myers-Briggs typing. I thought for the longest time that I was an INTJ, but I’m really an INFJ (typical for writers). Good post! Thanks for the reminder.

    • lauradroege says:

      Oh my goodness. I thought for a long time that I was an INTJ, but I’m really an INFJ. It’s like we’re Meier-Briggs twins!

  6. When it comes to quirks, I identify with all of yours. I wonder what that says about us. I have a sliding door that has a half inch open space. I try to close that half inch about ten times each day. Ha! Rrrr!

    My characters and their quirks. They have distinct personalities. Perhaps I need to gift them with a few quirks. My characters are embroiled in a crisis throughout the novel until the end. I see no reason that quirks during times of crises couldn’t show up.

    I finished Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak. Great read. Thank you again. Now that I have my Kindle, my reading has increased immensely. My reading time is taking a toll on my blog. I’m seeing once again that my hesitation to complete my MS has something to do with not wanting to do it at this time.

  7. I have every exact quirk you just mentioned Carol, and a few more. It drives my family nuts sometimes. I think it should drive them nuts walking out of a room with kitchen cupboards and drawers open. Who does that anyway? How can they not notice that? Likewise, my mini blinds need to be open or closed the same on every window. It just seems so untidy when one is different from the others. OCD?

  8. karen evans says:

    My characters most certainly have some of my quirks. But I’ll never tell which ones! :)

  9. joylene says:

    I love quirks, but I refuse to tell you mine. Okay, one. I have glass doors on my kitchen cupboards and I have this overpowering urge to face everything forward. (Two) I also absolutely hate shirts or jackets draped over the dining room table. (Three) Or socks on the coffee table! What’s with that!!!

    My characters have cute quirks. Danny Killian, the cop, smiles a lot. It usually means he’s up to something. He also curses too much. Brendell likes to brush dust and lint off her daughter’s shirts, which drives Zoe crazy.

    Those quirks don’t see near interesting enough. Hmm.

  10. Dave Ebright says:

    Me? Quirky? My characters? Whaddya kiddin’ me?

  11. Tricia says:

    I’ve borrowed my own quirks for my character. Needless to say, she’s a bit looney.

  12. I’m loving all the quirks that everyone is reluctant to mention! But knitting with turkey basters, Laura? Oh, my. That’s… um, eccentric all right. And Tricia, I would *never* call you looney!

    • lauradroege says:

      I didn’t get the idea about turkey basters on my own. I don’t even knit! I have a book of “T-shirt transformations” where craft-superstars have compiled various projects made from T-shirts. I borrowed a few ideas from there.

  13. Paul Greci says:

    I’ll have to check out the Myers-Brigs test. I usually write a brief history of each of my major characters to help develop them.

  14. Laura Best says:

    Quirks are what makes characters real. I borrow from myself, as well as others I know. These quirks usually are not there immediately, but develope as I get to know my characters better.

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