WE 5.2: Character Quirks

Special guest Bree Despain of the Dark Divine trilogy joins us for a ‘cast on character quirks.

A character quirk, avoiding the tautological definition, is something that makes your character memorable. We talk about good quirks, bad quirks, and how to tell the difference. We also laugh a lot because it was late and we were punchy.

We also discuss ways in which stereotype-breaking quirks can be employed without delivering humor, and reasons why we might do this.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

Regarding That “No Spoilers” Shouting-Match: If you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender (animated) in its entirety yet, it’s possible Bree gave something away in the last two minutes of the ‘cast.

Writing Prompt: A physical attribute that in some way influences the character’s religion

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19 thoughts on “WE 5.2: Character Quirks”

  1. Another great podcast. It looks like season 5 will match the greatness of the last four. I think so many people nowadays try for quirks that dominate the story, so this subject is certainly helpful.

  2. I didn’t know you guys were Avatar fans!

    Aside from that, I love this episode! Of course, I love every episode. I’d never really thought of that before, of having the quirks overshadow the character(s) and the story, and now I know why one of my character’s suddenly stopped working for me a few days ago.

    Thanks a ton for all of the great advice!

  3. Well after last weeks episode I was hoping you would go down the line an do this one on first person POV. However this was an informative episode as well so I can’t get mad at you guys. Ha-ha. Thanks.

    As for the writing prompt… it would be a bummer to be a devoted Christian that got turned into a vampire. Would make going to church kind of hard with all the crosses and holy water and everything. ;)

  4. I think one of the most wonderful quaky characters in mainstream television is Bree from Desperate Housewives, and how her strife for perfection ailinates her from people.

    But i love it when the quirk is just a subtle expression of something deeper underlying theme you slowly gain an understanding from by how the quirk express itself. Like having someone who don’t want others handeling her stuff and belongings can say a lot about someones background-

    The writing prompt quirk and religions spin that i would use is that someone born with a cleft lip clearly isn’t meant for speaking, but meant to listen, to take people confessions and to keep secrets.

  5. Actually, Beowulf and his men didn’t steal the golden cup from the dragon. It was a slave and Beowulf had to fight the Dragon to stop its rampage.

  6. A real version of the writing prompt is people who have celiac disease and who take some sort of sacramental or Eucharistic bread as part of their worship. Some denominations simply substitute rice bread for members of the congregation who can’t have gluten, but Roman Catholic doctrine stipulates that the bread must be made from wheat, so they’ve had to look for other solutions. (Also, the matzo eaten at Passover contains wheat.)

  7. This weeks writing prompt is a tough one for me personally as I must confess to knowing very little about religions, not being a religious person myself and knowing only what I have seen in movies and read in fantasy novels. However giving it more thought, and taking in consideration my self professed limited knowledge base, I believe that it could be interesting to have a story where the protagonist’s biggest dream is to become a television evangelist like his idol Billy Graham. However he has Tourette syndrome.

  8. I was about to make the same comment, fardawg. Beowulf and his men did not steal the cup.

    And I also think it’s exceedingly awesome that you guys have watched Avatar: The Last Airbender. That’s my favorite cartoon show of all time, quite honestly. I love it! :)

    This week’s podcast was also very helpful to my writing, as most of my characters are not quirky or memorable. I’ll have to add some quirks for a few of them. Thanks!

  9. Great podcast, but I think you also should have included information about how the dynamics of quirks. Some characters will overcome their quirks, some will have their quirks evolve into entirely different quirks, some of them will have their quirks intensify and get worse and worse until they prevent that character from having a normal life (assuming the quirk was not already life-shattering in the beginning).

    For instance, a character can have a disease whose symptoms become stronger and stronger and, in time, even become life threatening. Or you can have someone who get’s embarrassed when he enters conversations about a certain subject (let’s say lingerie, just to be quirky), but then he gradually starts to come out of his shell until he can talk about it without even blushing. How the quirk changes can affect the character, and how the character changes can affect the quirk.

  10. Sealion turtles!

    Umm…I might watch Avatar, too. Best thing made for TV ever, in my opinion (okay, not that I watch a lot of TV).

    And just to make my last statement sound dumb…I just started watching a show called “Good Guys” on Hulu, and I think it does a really good jobs with quirks. Every episode (okay, I’ve seen two…) has a new villain — interesting villains. There’s the arms dealer who’s cover business is kitchen fixtures, and he actually would rather be doing kitchen fixtures (thus we get some cool scenes with bickering arms dealers in a really tricked-out kitchen). There’s a vegan who talks about how his yoga teacher told him to eliminated stress from his life (as, y’know, he kills someone because they’re causing problems). Instead of being a cheap gimmick, the personalities are woven really well into the plot, making for memorable — and sometimes even likable — badguys.

    It made me think if I’m missing out on better characterization in my book because I have someone who, say, “doesn’t listen well” without giving something tangible to go with it — rubbing the ear while he’s ignoring people, for example. Or humming. Or always bringing the topic back to rock formations, regardless of what’s being said. I think visible, tangible things can really help to cement the characterization.

  11. Kudos for the Snow Crash mention!
    Hiro Protagonist has an even more interesting quirk (in my opinion) in that he’s a hacker whose story unfolds mainly in a virtual reality, but his hobby in the real world is training with Samurai swords. That’s even more defining than delivering rocket-powered pizza for the Mob.

  12. Katya – yes! I have celiac and my family is Catholic, so I can relate to this prompt so well! My situation changed my entire outlook on religions in general, starting with the Catholic church on this issue and spreading all around. The part at mass where everyone says “Only say the word and I shall be healed,” has become a bitter joke to me when I’ve been to church with my family since I was diagnosed. I just might have to build a story about this as the basis. But I’ll have the character have a completely different answer to the issue.

  13. Hi Guys,

    I found your podcast a couple of weeks ago and have been listening through from the start of season 4. I was listening the podcast on character quirks and I had a good idea for the writing prompt so I thought I should comment. Then I thought I could start up my own blog where I post all my answers to your weekly writing prompts. I’ll try to catch up with each episode so that I can stay current and up to date. My response below is to the prompt where your character has a physical attribute that contributes to their religion:

    The character is Jesse, tall, athletic, and with a pronounced forehead that sticks out further than his nose. In this religion of frontal lobe worship, those with prominent foreheads are considered to be blessed by the gods, and are offered stations within the ministry. Jesse is an accomplished gymnist but he does not let it go to his head.


  14. Regarding character weaknesses, there are two ways of looking at this. You can be successful writing a story with characters who are in fact extremely competent in the exact area in which the story calls on them – as long as the problem presented is still far too difficult to be easily resolved.

    The ur-example I have in my head is Honor Harrington; Webber writes her as being the ultimate naval officer, tactician, and leader, but the stories still carry tremendous jeopardy because of the sheer scale of the problems with which she is confronted. Every time she pulls victory out of the fire, but only by a knife’s edge, and at nearly ruinous cost.

    So, putting your character in a situation they are fundamentally unsuited for (peaceful-man-on-a-battlefield) is far from the only way to generate good challenges for them to overcome, and keeping that in mind can only help.

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