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Monday, July 18, 2011

Making character quirks part of the plot

If you're writing fiction, one of the challenges is to make your characters well-rounded and believable. One way to do this is with quirks, the strange little habits and idiosyncrasies that we all have and our characters should have to make them seem real. Quirks can tell a lot about a person, or may simply be another identifier so the reader can follow the action in a crowded scene. Quirks can even have some greater symbolism.

In my Civil War horror novel A Fine Likeness, one of my main characters is fifty-year-old Captain Richard Addison of the Enrolled Missouri Militia. Now anyone who has read up on the Civil War in Missouri knows this Union militia got their butts kicked on a regular basis. Well, this guy is no exception, especially in the beginning of the book. He has two main quirks--he loves riding and he gets lower back pain any time he rides for long periods of time. Getting old, you see. The war has worsened this condition because he's in the saddle most of every day. Our hero is losing the enjoyment of his favorite activity because of a war he hates.

This isn't a major part of the plot or even particularly important to it, although it does put him in a foul mood much of the time. What it does do is give symbolic example of the weakness of the Union militia and highlight our hero's dislike of the conflict.

Another quirk Captain Addison has is that he strokes his beard when he's thinking, a common practice among bearded men for some reason. After a few repetitions of this action the reader knows that Addison is mulling over something when he strokes his beard.

So when you're writing up characters, try to think of some quirks. It makes the reading, and the writing, a lot more fun.


  1. In my Science Fiction steam-punk novel, I have a character that is from a thousand years in the past. Whenever she has dialog or a chapter where the story is from her view point, there are no contractions. Its a subtle thing and I am sure few will catch on, but it adds to her character.

  2. Subtle differences in language can help differentiate characters. I use this in A Fine Likeness as well. Captain Addison is from Columbia, a town in the middle of the state. Jimmy Rawlins, the rebel guerrilla, is from southwest Missouri. They have more of a Southern accent down there so I emphasize that in his dialog. Plus he's an uneducated farmer's son while Addison is educated middle class.


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