Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Got Quirk?

A quirk is a peculiar action, behavior, mannerism or personality blip that is generally unique to an individual. Everyone has at least one, even if they aren't aware of it. Celebrity quirks are often fascinating, like the president who kept a jar of jelly beans on his desk, the talk show hostess whose entire wardrobe is black, or the world champion golfer who has to carry three pennies with him every time he plays.

Quirks can add dimension and realism to fictional characters. A perfect character is basically cardboard, but one who whistles old show tunes, wears a black bowler or calls everyone he meets "pal" or "doll" demands more attention. The quirks themselves don't have to be huge things, either. Sue Grafton's P.I. protagonist Kinsey Milhone loves sandwiches with the repulsive-sounding combination of peanut butter and pickles (and she was quite put out in one novel when she discovered that a long-lost relative shared the same quirk.)

Writers themselves have plenty of quirks. One writer friend of mine has a pair of lucky writing socks, Lord help his wife if she ever loses them in the wash. Another writer I know always prints out the first copy of a manuscript she's written on her favorite pale blue paper. Other quirks I've heard writers admit to seem to me more like a method of mental/physical/environmental preparation, as in praticing yoga before every writing session, lighting specifically-scented candles near the work space or perching a new Beanie Baby on top of the computer monitor.

I have my fair share of quirks, too. Years ago I stopped buying clothing with prints or patterns; my wardrobe is now 100% solid colors. I keep books to read, jars of pens and blank notebooks in every room in the house, including the bathrooms. As for work, I never eat an hour before I write or write while barefoot. I write facing a blank wall with my back to the windows in the room. When I know for whatever reason that I'm going to have a tough writing day, I wear a really big, ugly old torn-up T-shirt I stole years ago from my guy. Even if I don't reveal it in the story, I always give every one of my characters a birthdate and a full name. Whenever I finish writing a novel, I never type "The End."

What are some of your quirks, writing-related or otherwise?

Quirky links:

Jennifer Jensen's article on characterization and using quirks, Create Distinct Characters ~ Vary Personalities and Backgrounds for Interesting Fiction.

Author Judy Reeves has a entire page of interesting famous writer quirks here (I love the last one.)


  1. I use a fountain pen for writing my stories. So far I've written all of my stories on paper first, then transferring to the computer.

  2. I'm a standup comedian (I only write fiction on my free time) and I allways change socks before I go onstage.

    I just need the feeling of clean socks to make it onstage.

    I also have a very special Winnie The Pooh coffeemug that I drink from whenever I write. Whatever I drink better be poured in that cup.

    (It has the most wonderful sentence on it: Pooh could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky.)

  3. I suppose my only real quirk is I have to be sitting at my desk to write. I can research, read, etc. about anywhere, but the "real" work has to be done sitting in a chair with my laptop in its usual spot.

  4. Anonymous9:18 AM

    Hmmmmm... non-writing... I have a phobia of leaving doors unlocked.

    Writing related:

    I never discuss a book with anybody but my editor or a few close friends until very shortly before the book's release. I keep plot info, major story info close to my chest.

    I write better sitting on the couch with my laptop than I do at my desk.

    I don't keep my laptop hooked up to the web.

    I think every thing I've ever written pretty much sucks.

  5. I pick the music I listen to while writing based on what the scene is. Emotional stuff gets written to classical -- particularly Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff. If it's fantasy, I tend to listen to Celtic or world music. And if it's a romantic scene, it's the crooner (Sinatra, etc.)

  6. Anonymous11:52 AM

    I have my own writing quirks:

    --I can't (or at least don't like to) write in silence. I need sound, be it music or the TV.

    --I need something to drink while writing. Often it's soda, but I've been trying to be good and have water instead. Mountain Dew is the soda of choice, of course!

    --I need to sit in a swivel chair while writing, because I always face away from the computer if I need to wrack my brain for something. A reclining one is even better so I can lean away for the same reason. ;)

    --I need a CLEAN desk to write. Or at least not cluttered. Otherwise I know I'll knock something over or get sidetracked.

    And I always put in small quirks for characters to make them more human. I never overdo it--usually one or two, and rarely mentioned...but they do come into play at key moments!

  7. *shilohwalker said...
    Hmmmmm... non-writing... I have a phobia of leaving doors unlocked.*

    I have that same phobia. :)
    On the other hand, I find I write my best stuff(not often enough) when I'm sitting under the hair dryer. Guess heating up my brain increases the thought processes. Problem is I can't live my life under the hair dryer.

  8. The thing about quirks, though, is that they are easier to spot in someone else than ourselves. What someone else labels my quirks, to me seems perfectly normal.

    For example, the comedian with the clean socks might be shocked to find out that other people are perfectly happy to go on stage with old socks.

    As for me, I thought everyone talked out loud to themselves when alone in the car. Imagine my surprise to find out that this was unusual behavior. Doesn't everyone try out dialog out loud while driving?

  9. Anytime I write I listen to Elton John and I tend to do my best character development in the Gearden Center at Lowe's. I think it is the plants that help be breath life into a new character.

  10. If I'm writing long-hand, I'll use the same pen throughout until it actually runs out of ink.

    I can't write if I can hear the television, even if it's in another room, as the sound of people talking is too distracting. But if they're singing it's ok.

    Non-writing: I have mild OCD and tend to check I've locked doors a couple of times, even if I know I've locked them. I just have to check it one last time!

  11. Seems to me that if the guy cares that much about his lucky socks, he should wash them himself!


    Quirks...hmmm. My husband once laughed at me for caring about one of my characters as if they were, yanno, a real person. Ever since then I've tried hard to pretend they aren't.

    I don't recommend this.

  12. Since I clearly was a waitress at a deli in my last life, I have the unbelievably annoying habit of calling people things like honey or cookie, or sweetie. (Why do I have any friends? It boggles the mind).

    As a consequence, I seem to bestow this nightmare on someone in pretty much every book, and must go back and do a search to delete them, unless I'm actually writing a waitress in a deli. :)

  13. Writing: Need music in the background. Complete quiet is too distracting.
    Non-writing: I have to turn the volume down on the tv before turning it off.
    I also check all the doors before going to bed.

  14. Anonymous4:57 PM

    When I start a novel, I write a title, my name, skip down several lines and write "the end". Then I go back up a few spaces and start writing. LOL

    I have to write at my desk, at my computer. I can't write fiction by hand.


    I have to be covered up when I sleep, no matter how hot it is.

    I also like to chew gum when I drive. :)

  15. my writing quirk is that I never give my WIP a real title until I'm done. It always goes by a nickname.

  16. Anonymous9:02 AM

    My writing quirks change with every book. With Threads of Malice, for example, I HAD to have microwave kettle corn. HAD to.

    I disagree that perfect characters are cardboard w / quirks, btw. I work very, very hard to make my guys living, breathing people. Who just happen to be imaginary. ;)

  17. When I take notes, whether it's during a meeting, a pc or an interview, I have to use a pencil. But I love to buy pens.

  18. Thanks so much for the link to my article--it's really nice to see when someone else likes it. And I'm proud to say that I actually started a personal blog 5 days ago. (jenniferjensen.wordpress.com) So now tell me, between that and my Suite101 articles and blog, when am I supposed to write my stories? (grin)

    My quirk is that I have to find music to fit my story, at least with a book. For a middle-grade time travel (back to the 1830's), I had to have a particular Celtic CD in. The music just seemed to fit.

    Thanks again, and I'll bookmark you.
    Jennifer Jensen

  19. When I'm writing an intense scene, and it's getting crazy and frantic, and I'm so into it I can't even think, I will ALWAYS get up and go to the dishes right before the end of it.

    And I will always walk around the house at least three times before writing the final sentences in a book and typing THE END

  20. I can only plot out a novel when listening to Linkin Park, and it works best if I have a new album for a new novel. God help me if they ever break up.

  21. I can’t write if I’m wearing any type of footwear -- so it’s bare feet in the summer and socks in the winter. There must be a glass of sparkling water to my right (the bottle sits under the desk), a packet of chewing gum to my left. I drink and chew and write!


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