What are Character Quirks and How do they work?
(Hey, that rhymed!)
Character quirks are unusual features or characteristics that set a character in any work (be it literature, television, film, or even reality) apart from others. These can be descriptive, distinctive, or even special, mystical, unearthly traits.
They can relate to either the person’s physicality or their personality. Let’s take some examples, so it’s more clear to you how a quirk works…
Are you a fan of the show ‘New Girl’? No? Well, it doesn’t matter. I just wanted to bring up how the main character in it, Jesse Day (portrayed by Zoey Deschanel) is the ultimate quirky girl. Wide, curious eyes, a silly demeanor, and a tad nosy but mostly sweet, and she’s, of course, an absolute screwball. These are all quirks that work in her favor but also add some flaws to her, so she isn’t the usual girl next door or sickly sweet, stereotypical quirky girl either.
Similarly, I could take the example of one of my favorite comedians Conan O’Brien, or rather the persona he puts on for his talk show and sketches. Freckled, ginger, extremely sharp and witty, as tall as a coconut tree, charismatic AF (as the kids put it), bubbly but simultaneously kinda awkward, goofy, and cartoonish, all these quirks add to his comedy and make him a force to be reckoned with.
A popular one would be Harry Potter’s scar. By itself, it’s just a physical scar, but it also serves the purpose of either shielding the boy wizard from his nemesis Voldemort or even acts as a radar/sensor, letting him know that old Voldy is nearby.
If those examples made it clear to you what quirks are and how they can be put to use, then let’s move on, shall we?
How to incorporate quirks into a character?
- Quirks can make or break a character so use them wisely and in moderation.
- Avoid overusing them.
- Avoid overly ornate descriptions as they’re cringey (keep it simple, stupid).
- Let your character defy their own traits or quirks, as this results in character development. Your character can be in forever sullen mode, but what if another character walks into his/her life and ‘changes’ them for the better?
- Be original. Make them unique, but not unbelievable or two-dimensional, well-rounded, and possibly flawed. Many people are tired of problematic quirks such as the underdeveloped manic pixie dream girl and clichés such as intense, brooding bad boy, romanticized toxic qualities, and characters who think they’re ugly but who everybody else thinks is beautiful, so try to stay away from those.
- Use a character bio template to track and list memorable traits. You can find the best character bio template in our tools section above.
Examples of some unique, non-cliche character quirks
Physical and personality quirks
- Unique eye or hair color
- Extreme height
- Scars, freckles, moles, birthmark
- Wonky glasses
- Nailbiter/hair chewer
- Heavy breather
- Hair tucker
- Nervous tics and anxious twitches
- Colorful sock wearer
- Only wears a particular item of clothing like one plaid shirt or an unwashed brown leather jacket
- Slow walker/slow talker
- Chews gum annoyingly
- Slurps food
- Tattoos, piercings
- Nerdy and bookish
- Sweats easily and a lot
- Long painted nails
- Faceful of makeup
- Picks at teeth
- Raspy voiced
- Chain smoker
- Introverted and shy
- Odd sense of humor
- Stoic, detached, and humorless
- Has an addiction or irrational fear they can’t kick
- Sleepy and lazy
- Horrible sense of direction
- Brags/flexes a lot
- Emotionally attached
- Very sensitive
- Unpredictable wildcard
- Dual natured/two-faced
- Social butterfly
- Control freak
- Neat freak
- Brutally honest and can’t lie
Some of these traits are polar opposites of each other and may work together, especially since opposites attract.
Let me take the example of the bubbly and energetic Conan O’Brien again. In his sketches with his associate producer Jordan Schlansky who is the opposite of him and is supremely stoic in nature, brutally honest, a tad mean-spirited, and quite deadpan, their personalities clash, giving rise to hilarious and comedic moments.
Another example of the same is the snobby cousin Connie from the Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton, who is a far cry from her nicer and well-behaved siblings. Towards the end, she is much more likable as the magical events in the book as well as the likable characters around her make her realize how loathsome she can be at times and help her learn some manners so she can be a much better person than how she was at the beginning of the book.
Quirks in the form of strengths and weaknesses
- Strengths: Good at cooking, athletic, telepathic, hacker, artistic, creative, inventive, high IQ, curious, empathic, has superpowers and survival skills, fast runner, kind, humble, maths or science genius, logical, knows useless trivia and random facts, contortionist/very flexible, brave, fearless, multilingual, can talk to animals.
- Weakness: Bad driver, can’t swim, compulsive liar, manipulative, alcoholic, shopaholic, socially awkward, passive-aggressive, bad handwriting, self-destructive, impunctual, pretentious, boring, lackluster imagination, jealous, arrogant, irrational fears.
However, not all weaknesses are on the same level of how bad they can get. For example, your character can be socially awkward and still be a good person, but if they’re manipulative, conniving and compulsively lie your way out of situations, then they clearly need help!
There needs to be a mix of the positives and negatives and strengths and weaknesses in your character, or there is a possibility that they may either fall flat or not be as interesting. Reveal these quirks gradually to your readers, especially their strengths and weaknesses, so they might come off as more natural.
And before we wrap up, here are some extra unique character quirks…
Just to take it up a notch and make the characters extra unique but still believable, have them have a special pet, maybe an affinity for a particular number or a particular hairstyle. Maybe they’re a picky eater or into veganism.
Some can be so obnoxious that they enjoy flicking people on their noses, and this is now an annoying habit!
I’m a walking talking quirk myself since I intentionally enjoy watching cheesy films or shows and can wear the same clothes for months on end! I also like throwing in quotes from my favorite movies in conversations or incorporating Conan O’Brien as an example in everything!
There are some characters who can tolerate high levels of pain or will laugh at anything or prefer a bohemian style and are free-spirited.
Whatever be the quirk you choose to run with, just make sure you stay away from the hamfisted, clichéd kind, and you’ll be fine!
May the quirks be with you. And do check out the rest of our blog posts too. Also, don’t forget to share. Ciao!