Character Quirks & Little Defining Things or Events

I’m working on a new novel. I know the basic setup: it’s about two half-sisters who clash over inheriting a cottage in Italy, along with its resident ghost, the poet Perch Bysshe Shelley. The setup (hook) has specificity, but a story that can fill a novel drills down into such granular particularity you find yourself imagining exactly how each character walks, eats, where they carry their stuff, which kind of pillow they prefer, and whether or not they can tolerate broccoli. It’s all germane to the story, hopefully. But finding it out is a great labor.

As with all my great labors these days, I turn to the Internet. And seeking, I found several great essays on character-building, especially my favorite part of it, character quirks.

Here’s Writing Geekery on character quirks.
The essential point is that a good character quick blends characterization and character development. 

And here’s a character quirk I used that didn’t: a gold pen. My character originally used it to aid others in time travel. But why? Someone gave this tour guide a gold pen in gratitude, and so the pen had the ability to fold time, or write paragraphs of history. Not a good quirk and certainly not a good logical rule for time travel. I wound up keeping the gold pen — evidence that this character was wealthy and beloved by his wealthy clients, but not more than than. A minor, not developmental quirk, but then this character didn’t develop through my story. He helped others do so, but he didn’t have an arc.

It’s possible to get so enamored of a character’s quirk that you try to build a story around it, and that’s fine, as long as it does support a story. But I do love character quirks and how they aid my remembering a character as I read. Sometimes it’s an event in a character’s life. How she once cut school to go catch crayfish in a creek and instead caught an unopened letter.

And I really love gold pens. Maybe for the next time travel story?

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