We all know we need to write memorable characters. We need to give them a personality trait or even physical habit that can make them stand out to your readers. It can be anything from cracking knuckles to hair twirls but whatever it is, there needs to be a reason for your character to do it. Otherwise, it can come off as contrived or even annoying.
There are valid reasons for using a quirk. One is to make your character seem real. We all have quirks. Some of us just have more noticeable ones. So be sure to choose one that fits your character’s personality. For example, if your character is high energy all the time, it would make sense for him to bounce on his toes while he talks or jump up on chairs every time he has a great idea.
The other reason to use a quirk is for plot. If a particular quirk is obvious to the character early in the story, it may make sense to bring it out in full force as a plot twist. For example, if Dylan won’t ever leave home without his Swiss Army pocket knife, and you mention that fact in various scenes, then when he gets trapped in a cardboard box, the pocket knife will come in handy. (Okay not the best example, but hopefully you get the idea.)
The key to using a quirk effectively though is to carry it throughout the story. If it only shows up once or twice, then what’s the point of it being there? Here are six ways to use quirks consistently:
1. Introduce the quirk early in the story:
The wrestling match was in full swing when Hannah Prince arrived. She knew it would be no more than thirty minutes before it was her turn to take the mat. She scanned the room for a sign of her opponent and cracked her left pinky knuckle.
Here the reader learns that Hannah is a wrestler AND she cracks her knuckles.
2. Have another character notice the quirk:
Hannah sat at the dinner table stirring her peas until they became a mashed mess. She looked up to see her grandmother’s warning look. “Hannah, Dear. You know the rule. If you squish your food you clean up the bird cage.”
Hannah put down her fork and scowled. Not the bird cage! She cracked first the knuckles on her right hand and then the ones on the left. “And do please stop cracking your knuckles like that! Your hands will grow too big to clean up after the birds.”
Here the reader learns that other characters notice that Hannah cracks her knuckles too.
3. Have the character make internal mention of the quirk:
Hannah thought she heard wrong. Was Mrs. Montgomery really going to make her whole class clean up the broken eggs, scrawny Sammy Slater brought into class and cracked? She felt a twinge of pain in her left hand. I thought I had broken my knuckle cracking habit. I guess not.
Here the reader learns that Hannah is aware that she cracks her knuckles and is trying to break the habit.
4. At various times in the story, include the quirk when appropriate:
Hannah walked into the library. Her ex-best friend, Stella was sitting with her now new best friend, Kit. She quickly ducked into a cubicle by the window and cracked her left knuckle. And then her right. Getting mad wouldn’t help. But getting even would.
Here the reader realizes that when Hannah is anxious or upset, she cracks her knuckles.
5. Include the quirk at the turning point or climax of the story:
Hannah raced into the gym just as Big Mouth Marvin tossed scrawny Sammy Slater into the recycling bin. She cracked her right knuckle and marched over to the bully. “Oh, Marvin that’s so nice of you to help Sammy find a seat for the match but he really doesn’t need your help. He’s going to be sitting with me and the rest of the wrestling team. Come on, Sammy. Let’s go.”
Here the quirk makes sense to the reader since it’s been used throughout the story.
6. Use the quirk to show character growth:
Hannah looked her opponent straight in the eye. Funny how after all her worrying, Janice Clockmeister didn’t look so scary after all. She stepped onto the mat and reached for her left hand. Instead of cracking her knuckle though, she took a deep breath. Now was the time to stay focused. May the best girl win!
Here the reader learns that not only has Hannah broken her knuckle cracking habit, she’s learned to a bit about competing too.
So my examples here may be well…odd, but hopefully you see how using a quirk throughout the story can make it a strong character trait. I love using quirks. It’s a great vehicle for character growth and also a subtle way to keep your character real yet memorable.
Have a fabulous week my friends. May all your characters develop a quirk or two. And may they all be memorable!