Monday, August 3, 2009

How do you Quirk?

August 1 was my birthday, which astrologically puts me in the Leo camp. We leonine types are "impossible to miss, since they love being center stage." I won't deny that I enjoy attention, but I don't necessarily seek it, with one major exception: MY BIRTHDAY!

I am a total birthday narcissicist, unafraid to lord over the entire day like the Empress of Everything and expect all participants in the big "me" fete to just go along with it.

My family and friends have very kindly indulged me in this annual practice to the point where I now get calls not only to wish me "Happy Birthday," but to hear what sort of shenanigans I've gotten up to on the big day.

I consider Andrea's birthday hegemony to be one of my defining quirks.

Quirks are those traits that set us apart as individuals. Beyond personality, quirks are those inexplicable behaviors, desires, dreams that truly make each human unique. Quirks don't always show our best sides - they show us for who we really are: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Beyond birthday bliss, here are a few more of mine:

I love eating pickles right after chocolate. The contrast is taste-bud overload awesomeness!
I can't tolerate the Beatles or the Beach Boys. (I can already hear the moans of disbelief and objection. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I am who I am.)
I name all the cars in my family.
I find clutter comforting. (My husband hates this one.)
When I'm happy I make up little, tuneless songs about whatever I'm doing, (i.e. "dusting, dusting, this is the song for dancing and dusting").
I am horribly ticklish right behind my knees.
I think being offered vanilla ice cream for dessert is an insult. (And no, it doesn't matter if it's "real" vanilla with the little black specks. If it isn't slathered in hot fudge I'm not interested.)
I think morbidity involving children, ala Edward Gorey, is hilarious.

Why do I think quirks deserve close scrutiny?

Because the quirks that set us apart from other folks are also the best tools for building characters in your writing.

Knowing a character inside and outside means understanding their every tic, their own special quirks.

Advice on writing often discusses writing characters that aren't "too perfect," that even your protagonist must be flawed. I completely agree, but I think there's more to it than simply the absence of perfection.

To make your characters lovable, understandable, and empathetic they have to be like us: unique, strange, fascinating, fallible - in a word: Quirky.

Think about your characters - go beyond motivation to really discover who they are.

What is the song she hates having stuck in her head?
What color does he really wish his hair was?
Why does he refuse to make his bed in the morning?
What is her most frequent recurring dream?
Is he superstitious?

Quirkiness builds dimension in characters, makes them live and breathe. Have you discovered how your characters quirk?


  1. What a wonderful post! It is great to learn all these layers!

    My characters are all quirk. One quirk after another. Thank goodness for them!

  2. I love your quirks but I'd seriously have to look the other way when you eat pickles after chocolate. I like pretzels and chocolate but you wouldn't get me near a sour cucumber. Here is the weirdest food craving ever; a woman once told me her favorite movie treat was to dump Junior Mints in her popcorn. eeew.
    I like what you showed me here about applying this to my novel characters. Good stuff. (I also left you a comment on your last post, being belated.)