Quirks make a character


Every character has to have quirks.  Quirks add character.  I have had several blond moments in my life, from thinking panhandling was a regional thing (which, to me, is doubly funny, considering I live in the Florida Panhandle) to thinking rabbits laid eggs (confusing it with the Easter bunny).

Since I just read lists of odd numbers are funnier, I will post a few [quirks] of mine:

  1. The lines in the screws in the switchplates in my house have to be slanted the same way.
  2. If the ice in my glass came from an ice tray that wasn’t covered, I have to rinse the ice, or “pre-crack” it, first.  (Now, I don’t even bother with ice; I just put my drink in the freezer and set the oven timer on to make sure my Coca-Cola doesn’t explode).
  3. I am convinced that crushed ice, because of its rough edges, keeps soda fizzier longer, and that the smooth edges of “home ice” make it go flatter quicker.
  4. I will set my alarm for 7:03 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m., because seven a.m. is too close to 6:59.
  5. When I used to use an actual alarm clock (rather than a cell phone), I would have to turn it so I wouldn’t be able to see the time if I happened to wake up in the middle of the night, because if I knew I only had an hour more to sleep, I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep.

Whether or not I fall in love with the characters determines whether I will keep a book or give it away.  That is why I have kept my Linda Hall books (whose characters are offbeat and complex) and not Mary Higgins Clark’s (whose protagonists are often bland without flaws; they also all seem to like linguini with clams sauce, too).

All of my protagonists are different incarnations of me, even though all my “heroines” (as they refer to them in the romance world) are very different people.  I am a puzzle, of which there are many pieces.  Everyone has layers, and to keep characters interesting, we have to create characters as much, so they become real people in our minds.  There is a fine line between adding a layer to a character and having them act “out of character,” which makes one no longer seem real.

A great author knows how to strike that perfect balance.  I once forced a character in a book to act out of character to satisfy a plot point I wanted to use.  When my mom read the book, it was the only thing she said was off about it.  I agreed and changed it.

Character trumps plot.  Every time.

updated 07 Jan 2018

2 thoughts on “Quirks make a character

  1. I liked this post a great deal. I agree that quirks do make characters memorable. In the Caine Mutiny, who can forget Captain Queeg nervously rolling about in his hands the steel ball bearings when under pressure? Or Scarlett O’Hara’s refusal to look at the unpleasant things she was forced to do, promising to think about them another day, presumably when she was better able to cope with them (a day that never came). And there is Macon Leary, the character in Anne Tyler’s “The Accidental Tourist,” always engaged in the lone pursuit of solitaire (a key to a man cautious of life and others).

    Long after I’ve read the books, I remember these characters vividly – and their idiosyncrasies.

    • That is funny you would mention “The Caine Mutiny”, as that is one of my all-time favorite movies. My armchair analysis on why he carried those steel balls was that he had lost them (figuratively) years ago (when he cracked up). I loved Scarlett O’Hara’s sayings, “Fiddle-dee-dee,”, “Great balls of fire”, and, to Prissy, “You’re as slow as molasses in January”. Now I have never read “The Accidental Tourist”, but I have heard of Anne Tyler, and have been meaning to try her out (once I’ve exhausted the other authors I’ve just discovered). Great plots with bland characters are fun to read once (“The DaVinci Code”), but great characters (even in the absence of an intricate plot) can be read and enjoyed again and again.

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