One of the reviews of my debut novel The Hand He Dealt described a supporting character as “maternal and quirky”. I agreed with the maternal bit, but quirky? There was something I had to think about.
I associate the word “quirky” with women in romcoms, usually played by Zooey Deschanel, who wear crazy clothes, are utterly unreliable and like to do things like run naked on the beach at midnight. It wasn’t something I would have applied to that particular supporting character. But then that’s probably just my bias, because we have to make characters distinctive, don’t we – and doesn’t that mean adding quirks?
It’s actually one of my favourite challenges with a character – coming up with quirks that also fit what we already know, and don’t define the entire person. (As an example of one done badly, in my opinion, I saw a male character in a film whose entire personality consisted of “terrified someone will crease his shirt”. That didn’t work.) When I prepare a new character, I plan out their favourite foods, their tastes in music and film, how they like to dress, and any unusual speech patterns related to accent, dialect or social preference. When I drew up my paranormal investigator Tamar Steele, I gave her a bedroom decorated with posters of nebulas and constellations and a taste for eating Chinese food cold.
Thinking about it, I’m not sure those are necessarily quirks. They’re character traits. So maybe “quirky” really is restricted to those loopy characters in romcoms. Never mind – there’ll always be someone who likes Zooey Deschanel; I’ll stick to Angelina Jolie.