Thoughts on Character Creation 2 - Idiosyncrasies (Author's Notes)

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Hello, hello, hello!

As threatened, I am back to ramble on further about designing characters. What I’m going to talk about today is the importance of unique idiosyncrasies in characters.

After I’ve come up with my character, their type, their purpose in the narrative, and their associations, it’s time to start building their true personality. Quite often with these idiosyncrasies I try my best not to repeat any within the same story unless I have characters that are blood related.

An example of this would be the shared speech pattern of Elizabeth and Maryanne Harper in the noir series I’ve been working on the last couple of years. The Harper women have a certain set of colloquialisms they share as well as a handful of key phrases, and those phrases are never uttered by anyone outside of the family. However, where they differ is that Elizabeth has what many would think of as a foul mouth. She swears quite a lot.

Another thing I like is a one-off version of the unique accent or speech pattern.

For instance, the minor character Theodore ‘Mouser’ Mauser in the series (introduced in the short collection) has a very pronounced stutter. I came to this specific trait (and his name) because he’s skittish to the core. He’s sort of a rat. Mouser’s a junkie/dealer/mule, and I wanted a reason for him to have turned to drugs the way he did. He’s not an inherently bad guy, but he’s absolutely a criminal, and he was driven to that lifestyle as an exaggerated response to years of abuse resulting from his speech impediment.

Then there are the more abstract or strange things. Certain habits.

My favorite example of this in my own work is in Maryanne Harper’s refusal to say goodbye. For reasons that will be revealed in one of the books I have coming later in the year, she grew to believe early on in life that ‘goodbye’ means forever, and held to that belief throughout her life, even going so far as to chastise others for saying it to her.

One of my favorite examples of this in other fiction comes from an unlikely source, the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond”. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, I admit, but it has one really great character in Robert Barone, the titular Raymond’s brother. He’s filled with strange anxieties and inadequacy issues, but the best thing about him is this strange tick he has while eating. Any time he’s shown to be eating, he touches the food to his chin before he puts it in his mouth. No matter what it is - chin, then mouth.

Not every character needs something quite that unique, but all important ones absolutely should.

The point of making sure that every character has something unique that adds to their personality in this way is, again, to make even the most minor of characters stand out in some way. To have something special about them so nobody’s just a one-note and so that they might resonate more with the audience. It’s one of the best ways to avoid ‘one voice’/'same voice' writing (which is a can of worms I’ll avoid opening for the time being).

Ideally, an audience should be able to find something they can latch onto or identify with even in the worst characters. After all, even bad people are people, and they do ‘people’ things. That should be reflected in fiction, even if it’s the most cut and dry, ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ story.

That’s my 76 cents, anyway.

Originally posted on June 19th, 2017 via Tumblr.