Characterization: Writing Quirky Characters

As stated in my previous post, character biographies are essential to creating three-dimensional characters.

Another technique for 3D characters: give ’em quirks. A quirk can be anything from being obsessive about punctuality or neatness to flopping on a couch first thing every morning to watch ESPN or always walking around the house barefoot. The late, great American novelist and historian, Shelby Foote, once said in an interview that he wrote in his pajamas. Now I’d call that a quirk.

The Author Who Lived in His Pajamas – The Author’s Cove: John “Jack” Cunningham on Writing & History (

So, give each of your characters habits and traits that are peculiar to them.

For example, C.S. Forester’s naval hero, Horatio Hornblower, possesses a quirk about baths–he likes having his men hose him down on deck whenever he takes one.

Rex Stout’s fictional detective, Nero Wolfe, is a homebody. He’d rather tend his orchids than step outdoors onto the busy streets of New York. His assistant, Archie Goodwin, does all of the running around and investigating.

Observation of people helps us create similar believable, and quirky, characters. How do others talk? What mannerisms and gestures do they use? Any pet words or phrases? Any quirks? Keep a running list of these things. That way, they won’t be forgotten, and then we can turn to them when we write our character biographies. Let each character be his/her own unique personality.

So, give ’em some quirks. Make each character his/her own unique personality, then watch them jump off the page.

Source on Shelby Foote: Coleman, Carter and Donald Faulkner and William Kennedy. “Shelby Foote, The Art of Fiction No. 158.” The Paris Review, Issue 151 Summer 1999,

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