“Quirking” the lead

Characters take over a story, that’s a fact. Often a very memorable character takes over our lives while we read or write a story. And who doesn’t love personality, odd quirks and memorable attributes? These enhance a story and create opportunities for misunderstandings, misinterpretations and mishaps. And also chances for conflict, humor and tenderness.

1)     Phobias: Great heroes and heroines possess private fears; i.e. situations they’d rather avoid. So how about a fear of snakes (Indiana Jones) or the fear of heights (the Green Lantern) or a bat phobia that leads to becoming Batman? A heroine can be shy and overcompensate or impulsive and stutter. Bridgett Jones comes to mind or Kate in Taming of the Shrew. And then there are obsessions, Ahab in Moby Dick, Heathcliff  from Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre.

2)     Physical attributes: Though a wandering eye or the pox may not make a character endearing, other quirks can. Glasses, for instance, can be sexy, but what if the hero or heroine is too vain to admit they need them? Maybe a leading lady can’t decide on a hair color and continually experiments. Or the leading man wears plaid shorts winter and summer, stylishly clueless.

More quirky? Okay. What about a hero or heroine with a bionic limb? With so many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, true heroes, wearing prosthetic limbs, why not a leading man or lady fitted with a robotic leg. It isn’t science fiction anymore. After all, a man with two missing lower legs ran in the Olympics! Pretty cool, right? How many ways can this concept be sexy or heroic or superhuman?

3)     Behavioral quirks: Twisting of rings, snapping watch bands, twirling hair strands, inability to sit still, pencil tappers, strange key-chain charms, bumper stickers, cowlicks, ties that never hang straight, favorite but really dumb hats, each of us can create our own list of odd, uncool quirks we hide away like naughty children.

We seem to have a need for perfect heroes and heroines. But isn’t it more fun if the leading man loses his temper and learns to apologize or the leading lady acts like a jerk and has to make it up with a sweet gesture? Men lose their patience and bulldoze into situations. Women are self-conscious, worry about their hair and talk too loud. When forced into a look-your-worst, talk-softly and be-patient or die situation the plot gets way more interesting.

I love a story that challenges and ‘flips’ characters. Because the more quirks or ‘weakness’, the more occasions for him or her to overcome, grow, fix, repair, change and evolve. Or not! Perhaps they learn to accept themselves for who they are as they see themselves through the eyes of a lover. And how romantic is that?

Pam B. Morris, author of Smitten Image, a story brimming with fears, quirks, magic and mayhem.

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14 Comments

  1. Love your post, Pam, and I love quirky characters. I find I can identify with weaknesses more often than strengths, so quirks help in the development of sympathetic characters. Keep those quirks coming!

    • Thanks, Susan. I think a lot of us can identify with off-beat characters. After all, the shoe fits… and aren’t we lucky little Cinderella’s?!!

  2. Things that don’t hang straight…. hmmmm. 🙂 Just loved this piece, Pam. Very lively and fun. And great advice for any writer.

    • Very funny, Deborah. I didn’t even go there (and I so coulda!). And thanks for making me laugh as always.

  3. Pam, I loved this. You’re so right. Quirks, flaws, eccentricities, and yes, even phobias make characters come alive. We can relate to them better, certainly understand them more. There’s a reason we celebrate incredible accomplishments yet still, secretly, pull for the underdog to best the favored.

    • Something about an underdog, isn’t there? It’s in our nature’s and that is a grand and kindly human trait. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Great post, Pam.
    You’re so right quirky characters are way more memorable than perfect ones.

    • I remember reading Bridget Jones’s Diary way back when and thinking, “Oh, gosh, a stumble-bum, clueless goof ball like me. And she gets the guy… both of them!” It was as big a best seller as Shades is now, and way more fun to identify with!

  5. Agreed, Pam! Quirks work great as long as they don’t get in the way of the story. A good quirk can be like the cherry on top.

    • Exactly, Berrin Rae! Or an olive in the martini, or sprinkles on ice cream!!

  6. That was a great blog, Pam, and so true. The comments you received show you how well you hit it on the nose.

    • Thanks, Carol. I know I need reminded once in awhile of the basics, just a wee kick in the head, to help me stay on track. I always get it from reading posts by you ladies. What a lovely gift we all share with each other.

  7. How romantic is that indeed! What a great post! So much fun to read and ponder.

    Have a beautiful day!
    Rionna

    • Thanks, as always… I gotta find a better way to say “thank you”. I’m saying it in my sleep, I hear!!


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