By Becky Martinez
We all know people who are a little “different.” People who do things that are a little unusual. We may admire them, we may criticize them, we might say, “huh?” But one thing is for certain, they’re never boring. Well, maybe we know some people who are downright boring and that in itself might provide an usual quirk.
Knowing all these different types of people can be valuable when you sit down to start developing your characters. Think about it—every person you know is a little bit different from the next person. What makes them such unique individuals? In some cases it is all those strange eccentricities. That unusual behavior can be very useful and play a big role in turning your story characters into “real” people who come alive on the pages of your next book.
Call these characteristics foibles, quirks, call them flaws, call them whatever you want. They make that person different from you and the next person. You might have some of those strange quirks too. Look for them, use them.
Here are some of the interesting behaviors I’ve run across in the people around me.
The neighbor who tests her door lock exactly three times every time she leaves the house—not one, not two, not five. She turns that knob exactly three times to make certain it’s locked.
The friend who refuses to use his ATM card or write checks and needs to stop by the bank every single day or every other day, depending on how much cash he needs.
The elderly aunt who never made it past high school but suddenly began using all these clinical words. She had become an invalid and spent all her time watching crime programs and afternoon talk shows – as she told us when we questioned a big word – “I can’t help it, I heard it on Oprah.”
So what can you do with these people who have just some fun little quirks? Well, use them of course.
If I was writing a book where my neighbors were suddenly turning into clones (like Invasion of the Body Snatchers) I could make my heroine notice that her neighbor was suddenly leaving the house without ever checking the door again. Wouldn’t that make her question just who that woman had suddenly become?
Thugs attacking the man who gets a large amount of cash from the bank every day might seem like a likely opening for a crime story, but what if, instead of cash, police find only the man’s wallet and that wallet contains a banking receipt. Or if those amounts start to mysteriously get larger and larger?
And maybe that invalid aunt might be turned into an amateur sleuth herself, who stopped watching true crime shows and started watching what was happening in the neighborhood (such as Rear Window and Disturbia)
Then there are those peculiar animals. I have a cat that loves to sit in my suitcase every time I pack for a trip. I’m convinced one of these days I’m going to be in such a rush I’m going to arrive at my destination, open up that bag and find the cat curled up on a sweater.
But even that could turn into a story. Think about the heroine who ends up finding that cat at a fancy hotel and the cat escapes and runs down the hall… and of course ends up caught by an incredibly sexy guy.
Unique behavior is not just useful for your extraneous or secondary characters either. Giving some of those small imperfections to your main characters too can make them unique and more real. We all know about Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes and Monk’s idiosyncrasies, even Stephanie Plum’s predilection for Tasty Cakes. Those things help turn those characters into someone we can root for as they vanquish the bad guys. We want to know our heroes and heroines can be vulnerable at times and have a few weaknesses even they can’t overcome.
So don’t ignore those quirky characters around you. Look for them, enjoy them and maybe even use them in your next book.
Becky Martinez is a former broadcast journalist who spent 30+ years in television newsrooms around the West. She now writes romance, romantic suspense and mystery, both in short story and novel lengths. Her latest novella, Shadows from the Past, is a gothic romance and will soon be available from www.thewildrosepress.com. She is also co-author of the book on writing, 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters.
With 10 Steps co-author Sue Viders she will be teaching a class for FFNP next month titled “Character Flaws.” Sue is also co-author of Heroes and Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes and developed the writer’s card game, Deal a Story.
Visit Becky and Sue’s website at www.writethatnovel.com.