Think of someone you know. What’s the first thing that springs to mind? Chances are, it’s not what they do for a living. It’s probably not where they live or what colour their hair is. It’s probably a personality quirk. Something that makes them…them.
Those little quirks, or foibles, are what takes a character from flat and predictable to rounded and realistic.
Why is that important? Well you want your reader to empathise with them. You want your reader to root for them. Hell, you might want your reader to hate them!
So this super quick exercise will help you to generate personality quirks that can help make your characters pop!
If you want to learn how to apply personality quirks to your characters, then you can watch my first Writing Tip video below, or just keep reading.
So you wanted the text version? Here it is!
Getting started with personality quirks
Sit down and think about yourself. You’re going to make a list about little things that make you ‘you’. Don’t just list out your interests, or favourite foods. Think wider.
So for me, my quirks might be;
- Spiders don’t bother me in the slightest but I’m terrified of slugs.
- I assign colours to the days of the week, and times of day. (Tuesday is orange, btw)
- I love the smell of freshly baked bread more than I love the smell of chocolate!
Go ahead and list them out. What are your character quirks? Pop some of them in the comments!
Build up a bank of these personality quirks
Repeat the process for people you know well. You can go ahead and ask them, if you’re not sure. Hell, stick up a status on Facebook. Whatever’s easiest for you!
However you do it, make sure you keep a list somewhere of quirks that seem interesting. Perhaps you know someone who won’t use plastic cutlery, and even carries a metal teaspoon everywhere.
Maybe you have a friend who has specific, but unique, nicknames for their children.
You’re bound to have one friend who’s so insecure they copy everyone around them but insist they did everything first.
Who do you know and what stands out about them?
Working on existing characters?
See if any of these quirks fit your existing characters. It could be something small that you only ever slip into a description once.
So you might have a gruff PI who carries his own cutlery.
This in itself gives you a cool excuse to add a little back story. After all, where does this quirk come from? Did he once have a close shave with a plastic fork on an aeroplane?
Alternatively, it could form the fundamental basis of their character. Maybe your PI refuses to touch anything that anyone else might have used before him, and it’s forced him into the life of a recluse. His latest case is the only thing that can shake him free of his rut!
Writing new characters?
Before you even start to write, sketch out a few quirks you think your character might have.
Will they relate to the plot? You might not know what the plot will be, but you have a character in mind. Do the quirks suggest a plot?
If you’re already got a plot, then keep the quirks in mind while you’re writing. Maybe they’ll take your character in new and unusual directions!
Want proof that your characters need personality quirks?
Just look at Twilight. Bella and Edward are colossally dull characters. Sure, one of them is immune to vampire powers and the other is telepathic, but they’re plot points, not quirks.
Look instead to Harry Potter. Luna Lovegood is chockful of quirks, and she’s delightful!
Check out Marla Singer in Fight Club. She takes clothes from laundrettes and sells them to secondhand stores. We only see her do it once in the film but it tells us a lot about her!
This is the key point to personality quirks. Use them to show your readers the character without having to tell them this stuff!
What quirks do you think you might use? Share them in the comments and we can build a big swipe file!
If you’re curious to see how I use characters, then grab my free speculative fiction collection by joining my mailing list here. Harbingers gets 5* on Amazon, and is available in PDF, MOBI and ePub formats!