As an author, I’ve been told that characters with quirks will appeal to readers more strongly, because we ALL know people with quirks. Maybe we had an aunt who made the sign of the cross when passing graveyards, even though she wasn’t Catholic and never attended services. I once worked with somebody who ordered grill cheese sandwiches at every restaurant because a grilled cheese sandwich is safe, fast, cheap, and filling. My mom could grow African violets that seemed to bloom ALL THE TIME.
We remember quirks, which helps build a character from an authorial standpoint, for two reasons. First, odd behaviors stand out–I don’t know anybody else who can grow African violets like my mom did–and second, there’s often a story attached to the quirk. The home where I and six sibling grew up was a fairly utilitarian place–big dining room, five bedrooms (one of them huge), enormous yard that backed up to a woods, and our dining room chairs were “radar” style patio furniture because that stuff is indestructible (and sixty years later apparently worth a mint, alas). But the house also had ten floor-to-ceiling picture windows, which meant a great deal of light all year round and significant solar gain even in winter.
So Mom beautified our dwelling with house plants, and making cuttings from African violets is a cheap way to propagate a flowering plant. The African violets were for pretty, but also cost-effective, and that reflects two realities of my mom’s version of raising a family: Her needs often came last, and one salary for nine people was a tight squeeze in a good year.
Trenton Lindsay confided in his horse because he’d grown up without friends and continued that isolation into adult life. Who else did he have to talk to? Eleanora Hatfield, heroine of next week’s release, Forever and a Duke, is fanatic about finding missing pennies, because she was raised with no pennies to spare in a family full of shysters. Stephen Wentworth always greets animals because when he was a little boy with a game leg, nobody greeted him.
An interesting characteristic of a quirk is that from my perspective, my quirks are sometimes normal and it’s the rest of the world that really makes no sense. When writing, I am highly intolerant of noise for example. I get annoyed by the sound of the ballast humming in the florescent light in my kitchen. Crickets distract me, though I love them. Most writers thrive in a coffee shop environment, which turns out to be in the ideal zone for the sort of white noise that typically fuels creativity.
“A coffee shop?” I think. “People write in coffee shops? Human people intent on generating good books write in COFFEE SHOPS?! How can this be?” But of course this behavior is normal, to the point that you can download an app that will re-create the hubbub of a coffee shop to boost your writing productivity.
Do you have a quirk or know somebody with a memorable little habit? Is there a story behind that human foible? To three commenters, I’ll send signed author copies of Forever and a Duke (international comments welcome!), but for those who aren’t print-readers, the pre-order price for this new release is $3.99. Get ’em while they’re hot!