I will be very honest. When I create a new character, I leave figuring out the quirks for last– and I used to skip that very important aspect of my characters. I had always found quirks to be the shallow uninteresting part about creating characters.
First, I would address a character’s deep goal to rescue his family from a prison camp and his motivation of having a second chance at supporting his younger sister, and then I would have to add “also Billy really likes cats.” How was I even supposed to fit such a random fact into my story? How would cats even end up in the narrative?!
Writing character quirks drove me crazy until I figured out three simple ways to come up with meaningful character quirks. If you are anything like me, you want everything in your story to have meaning, and previously, I had not seen the deeper meaning which could be put behind character quirks.
So here are three types of quirks that are easy to imagine, relatively easy to implement, and all mean something in your story!
1. A quirk that is symbolic of your character’s main struggle
What is your main character struggling against? How can you turn that into a symbolic quirk? This is especially powerful if you use the internal struggle of your character.
For instance, one of my characters refuses to show anyone her weaknesses and goes to great lengths to hide her failures and weak points. Since I am writing a fantasy story, I had this character’s sword have a serious, though not very noticeable flaw in its design. I am really enjoying writing about this quirk because my character knows about her sword’s flaw just like she knows about her own weaknesses, but she hides it from everyone else. It is fun to use this quirk with her sword as a parallel to my character’s journey.
2. A quirk that is a physical representation of part of your character’s personality
You can approach this type from two directions. What is the defining characteristic of your character, or what is a more subtle and hidden aspect of your character that you want to bring out? In either case, you can easily turn this personality trait into a physical part of your actual character or something that they physically do.
An example would be that one of my characters is constantly striving to be “good enough.” I don’t know if you are familiar with these puzzles that consist of interlocking rings that you have to detangle, but this character definitely is. My character actually carries around a pair with him at all times and tries to solve them often. However, my character never can detach the rings which is a direct reflection of his biggest fear– that he will never be good enough.
3. A quirk that is completely opposite of your character’s stereotype (and then you must justify it using your character’s inner thought process and personality)
Everyone and every character can easily be reduced to a caricature in our minds. While this type of quirk is a bit harder to come up with, it is worth it when it comes out. There are three steps to doing this type of quirk properly. First, you must simplify your character down to their stereotype (the kick-butt female warrior, the stoic genius, the popular pretty girl, etc.) Then, you need to pick a quirk (normally a hobby or like) that is completely opposite of that stereotype. Finally, you need to go back and look analytically into your character’s thought process and internal motivation and justify their interest in the quirk. This last step is extremely important because your quirk will be shallow and confusing if you do not figure out your character’s motivation behind the quirk.
Since this is a significantly harder type of quirk to pull off, I am going to use an example from a popular piece of fiction: Sherlock Holmes’ love of dancing in BBC’s Sherlock (please note that I am referring to the TV’s show’s Sherlock, the one in the original stories can differ a bit in tastes and personality from Cumberbatch’s portrayal.) Sherlock’s clear stereotype is that he is an sociopathic genius. Sociopathic geniuses play chest and manipulate people as their hobbies. They don’t dancing– here is our quirk that is completely opposite of the stereotype. However, this quirk works for Sherlock because it is part of his personality that he obsesses and perfects everything that he sets his mind to– this includes dancing if he so chooses. Moreover, Sherlock has a very set idea of who he is/who he should be (he decided that he is a sociopath, even though he is not one, and so he acts accordingly the majority of the time.) If Sherlock decided that dancing is an elite, refined, and in a way intellectual activity, then Sherlock would pursue it. Does that make sense?
So how do you come up with quirks for your characters? Do you have any examples (from your own fiction or other fiction) that fit in the types I gave above? (I would especially love to hear another example of #3 from you guys!)
Good luck writing your quirks!