Improvement Through Quirkiness

Sometimes, I think we make our characters too perfect, or too imperfect. Characters are role models for their readers, but as writers we must remember that they are people, too. That means that their flaws can’t always work to their advantage—their foolish bravery, which is their only character flaw, can’t help them slay the ferocious dragon. Writers need to personify their characters, and sometimes all that’s wrong with them is that they don’t have enough flaws—or they have too many.

I’m not saying they need to be foolish, stupid, trouble-seeking, unlikeable, demeaning, snotty, rude, and snobbish, but they need to have, at the very least, five different obsessions and five different pet peeves.

Take my character Jody, for example. Her pet peeves: (1) wet hair, (2) non-symmetrical things, (3) fonts that don’t fit what’s being written, (4) people un-organizing her disorganized organization, and (5) hypocrites. Her obsessions: (1) Fonts, (2) symmetrical hair buns, (3) British stuff, (4) English essays, and (5) protagonists in novels with whom she has a love-hate relationship.

My characters obviously aren’t perfectly written or formed—when I got past #3 of both the obsessions and pet peeves lists, I struggled. Jody, who is my most fleshed-out character, really isn’t that fleshed-out after all. Obviously, not all of these things are going to come out on the page—probably only items #1-3 will make it into a novel-length work (unless the work focused on the character’s pet peeves and obsessions).

Making lists is a helpful tool as an author. As a science fiction and fantasy writer, all those “character memes” and “character quizzes” aren’t that useful. Many of the situations presented are ones my character will probably never encounter, and therefore are unrealistic to speculate about. Instead, making lists of things—such as pet peeves or favorite things—is a useful tool for writers of all genres. However, if you are a realistic fiction writer, and your character may plausibly come across one of the many situations detailed in character quizzes and memes, those can be a powerful tool as well.

Here are five useful lists to make: (1) pet peeves/quirks, (2) obsessions, (3) favorites, (4) skills/talents, and (5) things they’re bad at. That balances out to two lists of things they’re not good at (total 10 items), two lists of things they are

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