How do you make your characters believable? Whether you write plot-driven novels or character-driven ones, your characters need to seem natural and human. They are the foundation of any great novel. You already know how to build your characters, starting with a tiny spark and fanning that spark until you have a well-formulated character with a personality, motivation, backstory, and voice. But that may not be enough to truly bring your character to life. If you want your character to resonate with your readers give them some quirks.
What are character quirks, and how can you make them work for you?
Dictionary.com defines quirks as “distinguishing characteristics or qualities, especially of one’s personal nature.” What, exactly, does that mean? It means that quirks are unique, unusual, peculiar, and surprising and define character idiosyncrasies. Quirks are things that your character has no conscious control over.
To make your character stand out in your reader’s mind and associate that quirk with that character, the quirk should be unique. Most quirks in novels come from a physical feature or behavior that is part of the character’s personality. It could be an unusual talent, an irrational fear, or some strength or weakness.
Let’s look at a character quirk of one of the most well-known villains in literature and cinema: Darth Vader. One of the most recognizable quirks of Darth Vader is his heavy, mechanical breathing. After fighting Obi-Wan Kenobi and losing to him on the planet Mustafar, Anakin Skywalker is rescued by Emperor Palpatine and put into a mechanical suit to survive, becoming Darth Vader. This physical quirk – that deep, heavy breathing that undoubtedly caused nightmares in a few moviegoers the first time we met him in 1977 – made his character memorable, even 47 years later.
While Darth Vader’s breathing is a quirk, his skills with the Force are not. Yes, Anakin Skywalker had some innate ability to use the Force as a child – he is the only human to win the Boonta Eve Podrace – he still had to train and learn how to utilize them properly. This is not a quirk. Any ability a character attains through study, skill, and knowledge is not a quirk, no matter how good they are. Remember, Obi-Wan Kenobi was a Jedi of some renown and just as skilled in the Force as Anakin. The quirk you give your character should be unique, or as unique as you can get it, to that character and no one else in your book. And if the quirk seems odd, even better.
Make sure you use your quirk correctly so that it is strong and makes your reader recognize the character right away. Otherwise, it could turn your readers away because it adds nothing to the characters and could make them boring.
Why should I make my characters quirky?
Here are four reasons why making your characters quirky strengthens them and makes them memorable:
- Quirks help your character seem more real, like someone you may know. They give you a glimpse inside your character and let the reader know who this character could be.
- Quicks give your readers a reason to care about them.
- Quicks help make your characters relatable, allowing them to be charming or annoying, beautiful or ugly, and so on.
- Quirks make your character memorable and recognizable.
How do you incorporate quirks into your character’s personality?
It’s not hard to incorporate quirks into your story. It’s easy if you consider these five tips.
- Grab a notebook and do some people-watching. Whether at the mall, your favorite restaurant, or just watching a movie or television, you can get some ideas of quirks to add to your characters. Just make sure you don’t copy the quirk from another character. Make it unique.
- Use your quirks sparingly throughout your story and make sure they are believable. Making them “over-the-top” is unnecessary, and only a main character or two needs them. Plus, you only need to use one quirk per character. You don’t want to overload the reader or make the quirks seem unbelievable.
- Make your quirk significant to the character and the story. Just like Darth Vader and his mechanical breathing are relevant to his backstory, the quirk you give your character should be significant to theirs.
- Avoid cliches and quirks that have been used too much in literature. Take a chance. Do something different and mix it up.
- Finally, let your characters break free from their quirks occasionally. There is a scene in The Empire Strikes Back where we see Darth Vader without his helmet. It helps make your character more believable, especially when the break in character is unexpected.
By giving your character a quirk, you help make them more human and easily remembered by your readers. Be careful not to overuse the quirk, and make sure the quick is unique and not cliched. Once you have decided on your character’s quirk, write it into your story and watch your character come alive.
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