Writing complex, balanced characters can be tricky. You want a healthy blend of positive and negative characteristics, and they should make sense for that particular character. Unique characters are important for a compelling story, but if they’re too unique, they could come off as unrealistic.
Characters should be somewhat grounded in reality, but also different enough that they are memorable and enjoyable to read about. One way to round out a character is by giving them quirks.
Characterizing quirks are a sign of a well-developed character.
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What is a character quirk?
A character quirk is something about your character that makes them unique, weird, and/or charming. Character quirks are the little things that make a reader fall in love with them, which will hook your audience to keep reading!
What purpose do character quirks serve?
Character quirks round out your character. They can be positive quirks, negative quirks, or neutral quirks, but they’re just little idiosyncrasies that make your character unique.
They can reveal things about the character, help your reader relate to them, and make them more likable. Quirks make characters seem realistic (because real people have quirks), which helps the reader relate to them more.
They’re also just fun to write, and can really bring a character and story to life.
Examples of character quirks
Character quirks can be anything. Physical quirks, personality quirks, verbal and behavioral quirks, negative and positive and neutral quirks. Some are obvious, some are subtle. Some will reveal important things about your character and drive their arc, while others are just there to bring color and completion to the character.
Here are a few lists of examples to give you a better grasp of what we mean.
Physical quirks are related to a character’s physical appearance or mannerisms. Including physical quirks can help readers distinguish between your characters, remember them better, and picture them more clearly.
- Distinct marks like scars, birthmarks, freckles
- Medical gear like canes, wheelchairs, braces
- Body mods like tattoos, piercings, split tongues
- Odd fashion
- Chain smoking
- Walking quickly
- Facial tics
- Making too much eye contact to compensate for hating eye contact
- Chewing on their hair
- Being left-handed
- Shadow boxing/power posing before important meetings
- An iconic or strange piece of clothing/accessory
- Nail biting
- Being particularly buff or skinny
- Being plus-sized
- Twirling hair on finger when thinking
- Touching face when nervous
Verbal quirks are oddities your character portrays through speaking and other verbal expression. You can include them in your character dialogue.
- Stutter or other speech impediment
- Interrupting people/speaking over them
- Using as many big words as possible
- Always the quietest in the room
- Using a lot of slang
- Narrating their actions out loud
- Foreign accent (real or faked)
- Getting loud when they’re excited
- Speaking softly
Using a mix of different types of quirks helps balance a character. If you only give them physical quirks or only give them verbal quirks, it won’t come off as natural.
Behavioral quirks are strange things your character does, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
- Being introverted or extroverted
- Crying at paper towel commercials
- Having kept a thriving sea monkey community since they were in middle school
- Collecting other people’s grocery receipts
- Twirling pens anytime they pick one up
- Fertilizing their houseplants with diluted menstrual blood
- Eating the same meal for weeks at a time
- Driving with one hand and taps the center console with the other
- Only sitting on the floor
- Going on 200 hikes a year
- Can pick a lock
- Laughing all the time
- Holding friends’ hands while walking
Personality quirks are probably the most important type of quirk for developing a character.
- Needing to be the funniest one in the room, and is
- Needing to be the funniest one in the room, and is not
- Short temper
- Complaining all the time
- People pleaser
- Obsessed with a piece of media
- Having a ton of hobbies
- Being controlling in every situation
Any category of quirk can be positive or negative, and some can be both in the correct circumstances. Positive quirks are things like good habits, behavior that benefits themselves the people around them, and things that make them likable.
- Playing guitar
- Good at math
- Community organizer
- Protective instinct
- Doing their own car maintenance
- Raising orphaned baby birds
- Owning a comprehensive tool collection they’re happy to loan to friends
- Checking on drunk friends in the bathroom
- Keeping a “mom bag” of emergency supplies
- Stopping work on their own project to help someone make a list of character quirks
- Reading avidly
- Journaling daily
Quirks can also be negative. These are traits that annoy others, are personally damaging for the character, or make them less likable.
- Bad driver
- Watching neighbors through their window at night
- Putting milk in the bowl before the cereal
- Has never seen The Mummy (1999)
- Takes a “souvenir” from everyone’s house they visit
- Jealous and possessive over romantic partners/friends
- Twitter troll
- Forces their friends to make a cheers boomerang for their Instagram story every time they drink anything
- Mansplaining/manspreading/being male in public
- Peer pressuring people
- Forgetting to pay their taxes every year, so they think the fee is normal for everyone
- Biting nearby friends when they’re nervous
- Compulsive liar
- Too honest
- Controlling behavior
A well-rounded character should have quirks, but those quirks should also come from multiple categories. Can you think of more categories than the ones listed above? Drop them in a comment!
Tips for writing character quirks
Now that we know why character quirks are important and have a pretty good idea of what types of quirks we can include, here are a few tips for writing them well.
Be realistic. Give your character complementary and contradicting traits. If they don’t have contradicting traits, they might seem like flat characters, a bit one-dimensional.
1. Give them quirks that make sense
As with any element of your character, quirks should make sense for their personality and background. Randomly shuffling quirks to characters probably won’t add anything to their personality or relatability, so think of quirks they would naturally do, say, or think, based on what you know about them as a person.
While traits are sometimes contradictory, your character’s strengths, weaknesses, and oddities should make some sort of cohesive sense for who they are, where they come from, and their goals.
2. Give them quirks that DON’T make sense
That said, it’s fun to also include contradicting traits. Go easy on these. Too much random weirdness will push your character to the other end of the “not believable” spectrum.
An example of why a character might have a quirk that doesn’t make sense for their personality and situation could be that it’s learned—from a parent or other caretaker, a teacher, an old friend. You might not even reveal its origin on-page, but knowing the background can help you write a more dimensional character.
3. Try to be original
If you start looking for character quirks in the books you read, you’ll probably notice there are some that are so overused they border on cliche. Picking at nails, tapping on tables, rolling eyes, singing to themselves…
Quirks that are used so often they just come off as regular human behavior won’t have the same benefits as original traits that are tailored for that particular character. Using tired traits can also make your writing style come off as unstudied or lazy.
4. Don’t overdo it
Character building is all about balance. Having too many character quirks won’t help. If you bog characters down with too much weirdness, they become less believable.
Introducing and describing quirks too heavily can also be overbearing. Try to introduce quirks in a realistic, subtle way, rather than laying it on too thick. Readers notice more than you think, so remember not to over explain things to them.
5. Be realistic
Try not to get too absurd with quirks (unless that’s what you’re going for). There’s a certain level of believability that your reader will have for characters being weird, and once you cross that line, it can be hard to take the story or characters seriously.
Exceptions for this could be in cases of satire, or if the character themselves are striving to be quirky (in which case, it might make sense to have another in-universe character being annoyed by them or reacting in some other way).
6. Try to make them relevant
Not every character quirk needs to have a “point”, but it’s nice to plant little idiosyncrasies in your characters that show up later and affect their arc or the plot. Using a literary device like this can make your writing seem more intentional, and can make your reader feel like paying attention to the subtleties in your story might pay off (in that they can see/guess where things are going), which will make them more engaged.
Quirks are one of the building blocks of a strong, round character. They help connect readers with the story, make a character more realistic and likable, and bring uniqueness to your character cast.