character tweaks and traits.

| Friday, May 28, 2010
Today's Tune: Soledad

It's hard to make a character interesting, isn't it? It's difficult to shape a person from the clay of your imagination and have them MATTER. How many heroes and heroines have we read over the years who just lay on the page, limp and flat like paper dolls?

Okay, that was a seriously creepy paper doll. But you get my point.

One of the most recommended ways of bringing a character to life (besides, you know, avoiding painful cliches that will make readers throw your book down a well) is to incorporate unique personality quirks. This is easier said than done, naturally, but there are resources you can draw on.

Watch people. I mean, not in a totally creeptown way, but just... people watch. Pay attention to the people you encounter every day, especially people you have a relationship with and can "monitor" over an extended period of time. You'll start to notice their habitual movements, phrases or actions. Take note of them and store them in your brain box.

You'll begin building a filing cabinet full of individual quirks that make people different, and can later be incorporated into your writing to give your character a little oomph of personality. Granted, it's still up to you to give them a FULL personality, but the quirks will help flesh them out and make them more real, more memorable.

Once you get into the habit of doing this, you'll notice little things all the time. From my own personal "filing cabinet," I'll give you a list of examples.

Hops a little when excited
Always laughs at own jokes
Taps nail on teeth
Exceptionally and unapologetically flatulent
Bounces leg up and down when inactive for too long
Jokingly threatens violence, but only to people they know well
Remembers names, but forgets faces
Gives directions by landmark, not street name
Says "I'm serious" during every pause while recounting a story
Hates having their face touched
Asks people if they want a drink when a situation is tense
Rocks back and forth from front foot to back while speaking
Always smiles, never laughs
Develops many superficial crushes
Writes letters because they can't articulate feelings while speaking
Cries at commercials involving families or animals
Closes eyes and shakes head when offended, but doesn't protest

... and many more. The possibilities are endless, really. And the best part about selecting these personality tweaks for your characters? You can easily link them to their deeper core personality. For example, if a character always clams up when someone begins talking over them, it can be because they're insecure. If THEY always talk over OTHER characters, it can be because they're confident... or arrogant, depending on how you want to portray them.

Someone who can't sit still for very long might have health issues, or just be exceptionally nervous. Painting one's nails a different color every day may signify either vanity or an artistic nature. An aversion to having their feet touched may stem from a traumatic experience.

See, this exercise can be extremely helpful! If you flesh your character out with unique habits and sayings, the rest of their personality may very well write itself.

If you want to go really nuts, try figuring your very own actions out. What are your personal quirks? And why do you have those particular traits?


{ fairyhedgehog } at: May 28, 2010 at 9:19 AM said...

I must try this. I've got a friend who can never sit still, there's always a leg or a foot moving. That's a start, anyway!

{ Wendy Ramer } at: May 28, 2010 at 1:01 PM said...

Love this. I actually have a few of those quirks you mentioned. I guess I'd make an intersting character ;-)

{ jason evans } at: May 28, 2010 at 1:58 PM said...

I like to build characters on what their issues are. Where they see themselves and where they think they are going. That leads to emotion and mood, and emotion and mood leads to me to how they act and what they say.

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