When you scroll through Pinterest or Instagram looking for ways to strengthen your characters, you may run into this common piece of advice:
Give your character a quirk.
According to dictionary.com, a quirk is a “peculiarity of action, behavior, or personality.” A peculiarity sounds fun! Especially if you’re writing rom-com or YA fantasy, right? The advice suggests that a quirk will create a more realistic character, one readers can identify with.
But let me ask you a few questions first.
Do you have a quirk? Are you especially proud of it?
From my experience, probably not. More than likely it’s something you try to hide. It’s embarrassing at best, annoying (to you) at worst.
I’m a little bit of a clumsy person. While it may be cute to have a clumsy character, I promise you that none of my loved ones thinks it’s cute when I break another ceramic vase.
Quirks are peculiarities that a character has for no reason, and they don’t help a character be more relatable.
Maybe your protagonist needs to start upstairs with her left foot every time. Okay, great.
Instead of quirks, concentrate on character traits.
A character trait digs deep into the question of why, creating a strongly held (mis)belief. It can also be an inherent personality trait that moves the story forward.
Maybe the character is neurodivergent and has obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Or maybe she once tripped when going up the stairs with her right foot, fell, and cracked her front teeth. This is all great backstory, but ultimately what readers need to know is why this character trait for this story.
Even in rom-coms, the trait needs to mean something. Let’s go back a little to my clumsy “quirk.” Ever seen the movie Good Luck, Chuck with Jessica Alba and Dane Cook? Jessica Alba’s character Cam is pretty clumsy.
This could be mistaken as a quirk. It’s cute, sometimes awkward.
But it is so much more than that. Her clumsiness propels the story forward. Her chipped tooth from a fall introduces her to Chuck (inciting incident, anyone?). It also forces her to see him again, since he’s now her dentist.
Her falls and blunders create a lot of comedy, but also a lot of conflict that’s natural to the character, much more so than someone who constantly scratches their elbow.
As you can tell, I’m vehemently against quirks for characters. Funny, charming, cute, or awkward character traits that have a solid backstory and help drive the story forward…go for it! THESE are the things that help readers connect with the characters and make them seem real.
Are you struggling to get readers to connect to your characters? Quirks shouldn’t be the way, but character traits can be. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how I can help you create a strong emotional connection between your characters and the reader, so you can publish your work.