Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Quirks, Faults and Doormats

It's usually Talia's Tuesday, but when one of the diner staff needs to take a day off, it's time to step up to the plate. So here I am, ready to bat (can you tell I watched an intense baseball game last night?)

How would your heroine react if she was called into work on her day off? Would she be ticked off? Would she refuse to answer the phone when she sees it's work calling?(not that I've ever done that, mind you) Or would she jump at the chance to help out her fellow workers?

It depends. What kind of character is she?

Building a character is a lot like building a world, only with emotions. We need more than just a grocery list of physical traits. Give them depth. Give them quirks. One of my favorite heros loves video games and sucking on red lollipops, while another hero of mine is a big strong cowboy who's afraid of heights.

Have your heroines bite their nails when she's nervous. When the reader 'sees' her doing this, you don't have to explain anything. Or maybe she loves Mozart and longs to play the cello in an orchestra, but sadly, the poor dear is tone deaf.

No one likes a perfect character. Give your characters faults. Back in the 70's and 80's I remember reading Harlequin Presents and it annoyed me that the hero was always perfect. The heroine wasn't. The hero was always right and was forever putting the heroine in her place. UGH. In the end, it always felt like the hero was doing the heroine a favor for choosing her. Arrogance is a good fault, but if your heroine comes across one of these heros, make sure she can give as good as she gets. No one likes a doormat. Except maybe the person who steps on her.

When you are giving your character faults, remember, there is a limit to what the reader will forgive. Was the hero into drugs in his youth and has since devoted his life to keeping kids off drugs? Well, that sounds like a decent guy to me.

On the other hand, would I forgive a wife-beater or a heroine who murdered her lover because he was cheating on her? That's a tough call. Maybe some writers could redeem them, but she would have to be real careful how she did it.

Know your creations. Make sure they don't step out of character, because even more than wife-beaters and murderers, that's one thing readers will not forgive.

I've shared a few of my characters quirks and faults, how about sharing a few of yours?

Oh, by the way, to answer my original question; my heroine would go in on her day off and she'd be happy to do it.


In memory of those who died


  1. Good points, Maggie. Some of my favorite characters are those who are quirky. It's always an effort for me to make sure my heroes have some faults because I do love the whole "knight in shining armor" myth. Still, the armor is all the more shining if he has to polish the tarnish and rust away first.

  2. Oh, I am all about the quirks, great post! Not only do quirks give our characters needed humanity (or, um, werewolfity or whatever), but they're great tools for a reader to play with. They can be simple; one of my heroes gets tongue-tied every time his heroine flusters him, which is OFTEN, and tends to shove his fingers through his hair when agitated. Even those things make him his own man. Er, wolf. You know:-) And I personally love redeemable bad guys, but you're right, it's delicate work. Great post!

  3. I think that is the tie that binds the diner staff together, quirks, and pie!

  4. Quirks make a fictional character memorable. Good call!

    Jody W.

  5. Ah, quirks. Gotta love them. It's what makes our 2 dimensional characters 3 dimensional people. My heroine uses 21st century sarcasm on her 13th century dragon-knight--confuses the heck out of him. In return, he has a habit of taking his frustration out on the small trees of the forest with his sword.

  6. There's a great book on quirks and how we all have them. It's called, "Everyone's Normal until you get to know them." Fictional people have to be at least as strange as the real life people we encounter. Good point.

    Thanks too for jumping in and filling a need. Just want to you know I’ve nominated you for employee of the month.