Monday, March 16, 2009

Character Quirks

Wyatt has a good post about giving life to your characters with quirks, and to be on the alert for them in real life.

If your friends are as varied as mine you have a plethora of quirks to draw from. I have several characters based on real life friends and not so friendly acquaintances. One person actually spawned two characters.

Since I mostly do the listening when people get together I have a lot of opportunity to notice idiosyncrasies, habits, and even little things that other people miss because they're more involved in the conversation and often are thinking about what they're going to say next and not what is going on around them.

Quirks and behaviors are the best way to show not tell. I have a friend who is playful and very very conceited. She thinks she's out of most guys league. I could tell you that, or she could tell you that, [She will tell you that.] but it's more fun to watch her convey this. She has this smug little smile and will sort of wiggle her shoulders while she extends her neck and lifts her chin. She'll cock that chin towards a guy, her eyes twinkling as she looks over her apple cheeks at the poor sap, then she'll roll her eyes while raising her eyebrows. This is followed by a loud exhale through her nose as she turns her attention away from them. Usually she resumes talking about herself.

Another friend rarely speaks. Even more rarely does he show any emotion on his face. So we have a silent poker-faced person, but people are drawn to him. Maybe because they can't figure him out. He can't be easily read. He doesn't display his emotions except when his wife is around and then it's shown just in the way his eyes follow her.

I have so many quirks and oddities that on my birthday friends dress up like me and act like me. It's Scarecrow Day. They mimic me from the way I cover my mouth when I smile, the way I hold my cigarette, and even the way I constantly pull my sleeves down over my wrists. [If I'm wearing short sleeves and am around new people, I will try to pull my sleeves and wind up standing there with one hand wrapped around the other wrist. I have badly scarred arms and get self-conscious about people staring at them sometimes.]

I am obsessed with having a clean kitchen and every night before going to bed I clean it from top to bottom. So every night I'm cleaning the cabinet doors, scrubbing the sink, and mopping the floor. When we got our newest roommate I had to tell her to please not to leave a dish in the sink if she uses one after I clean and go to sleep. Stick it in the fridge, the dishwasher, put it anywhere, but there's something about coming in and finding a dish in the sink and knowing it's been there for hours that drives me nuts. I also wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher so I don't have to see dirty dishes every time I open the washer to put more in. It's dumb and redundant, but still I do it. I also clean all the bathrooms, but now that we're in a bigger apartment and PB and I have one to ourselves, that's the only one that gets the nightly scrub down. [I should do a series of posts about my quirks.]

Take note of what people collect, what they talk about, how they behave when in conversation especially when they are waiting to talk. I have neighbors who only listen to one band, an old guy who will loudly fart then say "Sorry, that was me." As if there were any doubt who the culprit was. But it always helps to know why a person does the weird things they do. Most people with unusual habits know how they developed or at least a story about it. Like my friend who eats each item on her plate in full before going to the next one. Or another friend who can't stand her lips to be wet so whenever she takes a sip of a drink or even licks her lips must immediately dry them. She told me how it came about, but said even knowing that doesn't prevent her from doing it. Knowing the reason why can give the character more life.


Pan Historia said...

Thanks for posting this. You are one of the best writers at for writing great and distinctive characters and much of that is because of your astute observation of human foibles and strengths.

Helen Ginger said...

Great examples. And good advice. Probably why a lot of writers are quiet. We're watching people.

And thanks to Pan Historia for directed people over to your blog.

Helen Ginger

Lynnette Labelle said...

Pan brought me here, too. Great advice.

Lynnette Labelle