Character Quirks: How To Craft Vivid Characters – Jericho Writers
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Character Quirks: How To Craft Vivid Characters

Character Quirks: How To Craft Vivid Characters

Every person in real life has personality traits — something that makes them unique, interesting, and different to others.

Yes, even you!

So when you’re creating memorable characters for your story it’s really important to ensure that they have traits and characteristics that make them memorable.

This doesn’t mean every character in your books needs to have quirky traits, but — when it comes to character creation — it does give you the opportunity to have a lot of fun!

In this article, I’m going to discuss what character quirks are, how to write them successfully, and what to avoid. I will also be listing 80 quirks for you to consider in your next story.

Let’s start…

What Are Character Quirks?

Quirks are character traits that make the people in your story memorable, relatable and different to one another. A quirky character is one who some may consider unusual, eccentric, or a bit weird.

A character’s personality is fundamentally important when it comes to a story’s plot, helping form a realistic and engaging narrative and strong dialogue, and providing a memorable cast.

Quirky characters may have unusual physical attributes (different coloured eyes, for instance), unique personality traits (they skip instead of walk), or peculiar habits (they put lipstick on before they eat). Either way, a quirky character generally looks or behaves in a way that differentiates them from other characters.

Imagine the Cheshire Cat without his smile, Jo March without her books and impulsivity, or Sherlock Holmes without his pipe and hat. Impossible!

Character quirks not only help a character jump off the page but without them some of the world’s best books would be a lot less interesting to read.

How To Write Successful Character Quirks

To create believable characters, you need to make them stand out from one another. Each character quirk needs to be unique, relevant and recognisable.

Let’s look at these points in more detail…

Be Original

Think of new quirks that you’ve not seen in a story before. You may want to tweak more common traits to make them weird or you could try using people in real life as inspiration.

For instance:

If you are writing about a detective, it wouldn’t be very original to have him hold a magnifying glass all the time… but what if, like Inspector Gadget, his entire coat was created to help him investigate better?

If you are writing a romantic heroine, instead of making her loveable and worthy of her dream man from the onset, why not make her an interfering busybody fascinated by the love lives of others — like Austen’s Emma?

And if you are creating a teen hero, instead of making a strong, valiant and heavily armed boy — why not create a female character from a poor background whose only skill is shooting a bow and arrow, like Katniss from The Hunger Games?

Having an original link or contrast between a character’s purpose and their particular quirk, a unique trait that can be both their flaw and saviour, means you have an original character that can be easily described in one short sentence.

After all, you know exactly who I’m talking about if I say, ‘he’s a kind giant with big ears who collects dreams in jam jars.’

Make Sure The Character’s Quirks Are Relevant

Don’t give a character cute quirks that don’t mean anything.

For example, in JoJo Moyes, Me Before You, the very chirpy protagonist, Lou Clark, wears wacky clothes (stripy tights, bright shoes, overly fluffy jumpers) while Will Traynor, the paraplegic she cares for, is very serious and dresses smartly at all times.

None of this is by accident!

The author has carefully chosen these differences as the irony is that Lou is full of life and energy but is stuck in a dead-end job and relationship, with no plans to do or go anywhere. Whereas Will (who was once very successful and adventurous) can’t physically do all the things he once wanted to and has nowhere to be, but still looks the part of a successful businessman.

So they are both dressed as the person they wish to be, with neither confronting the fact they are not that person anymore/yet.

The realisation of what they both ultimately want to do with their lives is the main theme of the story — and the resolution at the end.

quirky-characters

Use Quirks To Show A Change In Character

One of my favourite types of quirks in a character is seeing what they do under stress.

In the Netflix series Money Heist, the police inspector, Raquel Murillo, has very long hair. Every time she has to deal with the hostage takers she ties her hair up. Every time the viewer sees her do that, we know she means business.

By the end of the series, she has swapped allegiances and wears her hair down nearly all of the time.

The ‘let your hair down’ is often used literally in storytelling to show a woman going from being rigid and controlled, to relaxing and letting go.

In the movie Something’s Gotta Give, Diana Keaton’s uptight character, Erica Barry, wears high turtle neck sweaters the entire time. By the end of the movie, once she finds the courage to be herself, she pulls at the neck of her sweater and rips it off, signifying her new vulnerability and freedom.

Have Fun With Foils

If you’re going to have two main characters, use character quirks to highlight their differences.

In Sapkowski’s book and the Netflix TV adaptation, The Witcher, we see two visually and behaviourally different characters. The lead, Gerald of Rivia, is physically big and strong, he fights monsters for a living — he’s also monosyllabic, emotionally closed and grunts a lot.

In contrast, his unwanted companion, Jaskier, is a poet, minstrel and bard who never shuts up.

The juxtaposition of both these visual and personality quirks makes for really interesting foil characters, helping to highlight each attribute the other lacks.

It also makes for many an amusing scene.

What To Avoid When Creating Character Quirks

The problem with character quirks is that if overused, and done badly, what could be a fun and memorable way to distinguish one character from another can quickly become grating for the reader and stop them from wanting to turn the page.

So what should you NOT do when developing your character’s personality? Here are a few helpful tips.

Steer Clear Of Clichés

Some character quirks and certain words have been overdone to the point of being farcical (although, if writing satire or a genre where readers expect certain tropes, go to town with the cheese!).

For instance, not every devilishly hot leading man needs to smirk or have a crooked smile. Neither does he have to be tall, dark or handsome. What if, like Cyrano de Bergerac, he has a big nose and is worried about his appearance?

Avoid Stereotypes

Racist, sexist, ableist, or any other type of stereotypical observations are not quirks. Mental health issues and disabilities are not quirks.

For instance, it’s insulting to make it a quirk that the intelligent female scientist also happens to have a big bust, or that the Asian kid is a maths wiz, or that the Italian woman moves her hands around a lot when she speaks.

Think about why you are giving certain characters a unique trait, how it fits into the plot, and try to be original with it.

Don’t Overdo It!

If all your characters are ever so quirky it will detract from the story.

It’s important to create unique characters, yes, but each one doesn’t have to be weird and kooky. Sometimes having a fall guy, a straight and serious foil, can enhance the hero’s quirkier traits.

How To Plan Your Character Quirks

Now you know what character quirks are, and how to avoid writing them badly, where do you start?

1. Think About What You’re Trying To Say

Every character in your story should look and act a certain way for a reason. So imagine your cast, (create a vision board on Pinterest if it helps with physical features), and ask yourself why they look and behave the way they do.

  • Harry Potter’s lightning scar signifies he has always had the power to beat Voldemort.
  • Scrooge is miserly so by the end of the story he can learn the error of his ways.
  • Willy Wonka’s split personality — flamboyant and fun one minute, mean and cruel the next — is reflected in the way the factory is also beguiling but dangerous. Even his name sounds ‘wonky’!
  • Ariel brushing her hair with a fork represents her ignorance about the land up above (and foreshadows the struggles she’s about to have when she grows legs).
  • Hannibal Lecter is sophisticated and very clever, which is disarming considering he’s also a cannibalistic murderer (a gentle, caring, smart murderer is much scarier than a big, tough, thug). And, again, it’s no coincidence his name sounds like ‘cannibal’ and ‘lecturer’.

2. Make A List Of Your Characters’ Quirks

Use the list below, or create your own list of distinctive quirks. List kooky characteristics first, then match them with your cast… or vice versa.

Try to be original, amusing, or endearing. Don’t match a quirk with a character for the sake of it, make sure it’s relevant to who they are, what they are trying to achieve, or to the outcome of the story.

3. Make Your Characters Rounded

Ensure their name, backstory, and how they interact with the rest of the characters matches their personality and quirks.

Sometimes they can be contrasting, like the main character in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Her surname sounds like ‘elephant’, making you think about ‘the elephant in the room’ and ‘elephants never forget’ — both of which are relevant to the twist at the end of the book (spoiler: she’s not ‘completely fine’).

4. Remember Quirks Are A Reflection Of A Character’s Disposition

Think about their mental state, their personality, their backstory, and their constant state of mind.

Let’s look at the TV show, Friends, for example:

  • Ross: Nervous and awkward = clears his throat a lot.
  • Monica: Control issues brought upon by anxiety = an obsession with cleaning.
  • Phoebe: Overcoming past trauma = has turned to music and a more holistic outlook on life.
  • Chandler: Difficult childhood = masks his vulnerability with humour.
  • Rachel: Vain and self-centred = obsessed with what she looks like (which leads to a successful job in fashion).
  • Joe: Comes from a large and close-knit family = overly relaxed, with few inhibitions.

So what other quirks can you give your characters? The list is endless, but here are 80 to start you off…

80 Ideas For Great Character Quirks

I have compiled a list of quirks categorised into physical, behavioural and personality quirks. See how many more you can add to these!

Physical Quirks

Physical Appearance:

A birthmark

Wears braces

Very tall or very short

Tattoos or piercings

Has long, sharp nails

Keeps dying their hair a different colour

Eyes are not the same colour

Unusual hair colour

Noticeable scar

They have skin problems

They wear a different wig in each chapter

Bad breath or hygiene

The Way They Move:

Walking habits, ie limp

Always sits on the floor

Sleeps in a strange position

Refuses to rush for anything or anyone

Avoids eye contact

Always chair leans

Sits extremely straight

Always leans against the wall

Laughs behind their mouth

Claps to accentuate each word

Moves arms and hands a lot when talking

Does little dances when happy

Wiggles their hips when they walk

writing-character-quirks

How They Dress:

Flashy style dresses

Wears a lot of jewellery

Always wears the friendship bracelet the other character made them

Wears clothes that are too big/too small for them

Wears glasses or unusual glasses

Exclusively wears clothes from a specific era (such as the 1940s or the 1970s)

Wears bright nail polish (even more interesting if they’re a boy or non-binary)

Wears socks that don’t match

Shoes are too big, or don’t match, or have colourful laces

What They Sound Like:

They have a speech impediment

Raspy voice

Monosyllabic

Talks too much

Sings when speaking

They clear their throat before speaking

Hums all the time

Says ‘err’ or other fillers a lot

Loud talker/quiet talker

Behavioural Quirks

Characters Who Are On The Edge:

They have some control freak tendencies

Obsessive cleaning

Always fiddling with their pocket knife

Irrational fear of something

Tying their hair up

Sleeves always rolled up

Always chewing their lip

Cracking knuckles

How They Treat Others:

Takes in stray animals

Extremely loyal

People pleaser

Unnecessarily rude

Fusses over people

Makes friends gifts

Character Habits:

Chews their nails

Twirls their hair

Uses the same word over and over

Smokes

Drinks a lot of a certain liquor

Swears a lot (creative swear words are the most fun)

creating-character-quirks

Personality Quirks

Strange Behaviour:

They have an imaginary friend

They’re always tired

Doesn’t need to sleep

Their best friend is an animal (or plant)

Talks to themselves

Talents And Skills:

Plays a musical instrument

Has an artistic talent

Great with computers

Photographic memory

Speaks multiple languages

Can build anything

How They Are Around Food:

Likes to make home-cooked meals for their friends

Eats other people’s food

Takes huge bites of their food

Only eats junk food

They give away all their food to the poor

Only eats organic food …

As you can see, the list is endless! See how many more quirks you can add.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Quirks In A Character?

Quirks are unique and memorable personality traits that make a character stand out from others. They can be physical (how they look or dress), or behavioural (acting a certain way in any given situation).

They are often used to reflect a character’s disposition or constant emotional state, and their tics and habits. They’re frequently used as a literary technique for foreshadowing or to reflect a change in the character at the resolution stage.

What Are Some Common Character Quirks?

  1. Winking at those they find attractive
  2. Leaning against the wall
  3. Clearing their throat before talking
  4. Wearing wacky clothes
  5. Smirking
  6. Biting their nails
  7. Having an unusual hairstyle
  8. Playing a musical instrument
  9. Having a scar
  10. Talking too much or not enough

Time To Get Writing!

I hope you have had fun thinking up some original quirks for your characters and that you enjoy applying them to your next story.

And remember, whatever you do, make sure your characters are ones that your future readers will never forget!


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