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Writing

How to Write Characters With Believable Quirks

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

The best fictional characters seen in TV shows, movies, video games, and literature often have a quality about them that makes them stand out. Whether it’s an unusual way of dressing or a distinct manner of speech, quirks are important details to think about in the character development stage. Those little habits and mannerisms contribute to the realness of your characters.

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What Are Character Quirks?

Character quirks are the memorable little things about a character’s personality that make them charming, endearing, weird, or unique. A quirk is anything worth describing about a character. It can be visual, like the eccentric way a character dresses or their uncommon eye color. It can be behavioral, like a character’s refusal to shake hands because they’re a germaphobe.

Quirks can be cute habits. Maybe a character touches their hair when they’re nervous, or maybe they always sing to their houseplants in the morning. Quirks can also be negative qualities or character flaws that make someone antagonistic or unlikable. Maybe a character interrupts other characters when they’re speaking or fidgets too much when standing in line. Quirks can be vocal. A character might have an accent or colloquial speech. Maybe they stutter when they’re nervous or always make a lame joke when conversations lull.

4 Tips for Incorporating Character Quirks Into Your Writing

There’s more to writing quirky characters than just giving them a list of quirky traits. A quirk should feel like it’s part of the character’s entire personality and not just added extraneously. Consider these guidelines during the process of character creation:

  1. Give the quirk a reason to exist. Think about how this quirk affects the character specifically, as well as other characters’ perception of them. How does this quirk create or assuage conflict? Do others like the character’s quirk? Does the character employ this quirk all the time or only under certain circumstances? How or when did it start? What does this character’s quirk mean for their behavior or development? The backstory as to why characters are the way they are is just as important as making them the way they are.
  2. Draw inspiration from real people. Character behavior drawn from real life examples can give a natural depth to the characters you’re writing. List some traits of people you know, or go to a public place and observe how people behave. Take note of the level of eye contact in their conversations. Watch what happens when they get excited or mad. Notice how people mumble to themselves or how their personality traits emerge when exposed to stimuli. Knowing how real people function out in the world will help your quirky characters feel organic.
  3. Brainstorm new quirks. Reusing old, tired cliches will make your writing feel generic. Character writing prompts can help you imagine new combinations of traits to give to your characters. A prompt can force you to think outside the box you’ve built for your character, putting them in other situations and seeing how they behave. This can help draw out features of the character that you hadn’t thought of yet. Character writing prompts are especially useful if you’re experiencing writer’s block.
  4. Use character quirks sparingly. Overloading a character with idiosyncrasies will make them feel odd for the sake of being odd. It might even make them annoying. Include just enough quirks to make your character memorable without being false or completely unrelatable. Your character should strike a balance between quirkiness and believability in a way that complements their personality.
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16 Common Character Quirks to Prompt Your Writing

There are many different types of personality quirks a character may have. Here is list of quirks that could make your characters more interesting:

  1. Has two different eye colors
  2. Has a noticeable scar or eyepatch
  3. Keeps a toothpick in their mouth
  4. Is left-handed or ambidextrous
  5. Incessantly clicks a pen
  6. Has a limp or a unique way of moving
  7. Collects bottle caps or other mundane items
  8. Mumbles when they have to say something important
  9. Has a speech impediment
  10. Dresses like an anime character
  11. Has superstitions like refusing to step on sidewalk cracks or gamble with odd numbers
  12. Considers an inanimate object like a stuffed animal their best friend
  13. Is a hero who doesn’t like using their superpowers, or has a ridiculous catchphrase
  14. Is very set in their routine, punctually performing tasks on a daily basis
  15. Is vegan who secretly eats meat
  16. Is a character who always sneezes around pets

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