Character Quirks

One of the biggest challenges a writer will face is to create a well-rounded, believable character. You need to make it believable, from the most insignificant childhood memory to the little quirks that will drive you, and your readers, crazy. It’s tempting to make them perfect at everything. Smart, funny, athletic, emotionally capable; all of the things that no real person can ever be.

We want our protagonist to be fit for the job, so that nothing ever holds him or her back. But in reality, very few people are like that. We all have our own personal thoughts that will hold us back from doing things so that we are more cautious than others or more inclined to laugh. All of these can be traced down to childhood memories. We laugh to hide the pain of parents that worked when we were younger or we’re more cautious because of continual failures in school. A person’s childhood can shape who they become so when you give your character a particular quirk, ask yourself why. Even if it never makes it into your story, it will help you to better understand your character and make them lifelike.

Another thing that is important to remember is that everyone has a vice. We procrastinate, gamble, or drink; we are more prone to succumb to anger or tricks. Giving your character a few of these makes people more able to understand them.

For instance, let’s say that you have a particularly smart character. He annoys everyone else with how smart he is but they put up with it because he is a loyal friend. The problem, though, is that he is often bored. Nothing in the world excites him anymore because he is hard to surprise. In his desperate search for intellectual stimulation, he turns to gambling and has been known to lose track of time doing it. He avoids card games because he has been caught counting cards a few too many times and it is too easy for him, so he turns to dice games.

Now, he may not be your protagonist but your side characters need depth too. Having a clumsy spy, a drinking diplomat, or an easily angered knight can be amusing for your readers and it will give your story a bit more depth. Don’t be afraid to have your character break their stereotype.

But what about your main character? How can she be an alcoholic or an excessive gambler? Well, she doesn’t need to be. Sometimes vices can be unexpected, like too easily trusting people. If you give your protagonist this vice then you offer a chance for betrayal, which will spice up your plot. Maybe she loves solitude so she goes to investigate something alone and is then ambushed. Your vice doesn’t always need to be bad but your protagonist needs something that works against the profile of hero. And don’t be afraid to have more than one. The more flaws, the more lovable the character.


My Muse’s Block

O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!

O memory that engraved the things I saw,

Here shall your worth be manifest to all!

– Dante Alighieri

As some of you may know and others of you do not, a muse is basically an inspiration for an idea. According to Wikipedia, upon which so many of us depend on for quick knowledge, Muses “are the goddesses who inspire the creation of literature and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge, related orally for centuries in the ancient culture, that was contained in poetic lyrics and myths.” They were Greek goddesses and many poets and writers of the time would ask for their guidance at the beginning of their writing, as Dante Alighieri did in the quote above.

When I’m writing I tend to refer to my little inner voice that inspires me as my ‘Muse.’ If you are a writer, you probably have your own version, where sometimes it seems like words flow out of your mind like a river and you are just along for the ride. As if you are just the conduit, a source for the words to burst out of.

I’ve just taken that feeling and personified it into my Muse. She’s a spiteful creature whose contrary nature tends to drive me insane and she often seeks forgiveness by giving me writing ideas at times when I am unable to write. She thinks it’s funny to take a nap when I have an essay due and whispers to me while I am driving in my car and there isn’t a single piece of paper nearby for me to write ideas upon. I’ve had her fall into a coma for a couple of weeks when I had to write a poem every other day for a class and I’ve had her whisper to me in class so I’m writing furiously to get the ideas down rather than paying attention to the lecture. Basically, she is, if you will excuse my language, a bitch.

Yet, I love that little voice. Whenever she speaks to me, I get really excited and desperately rush to write things down before she goes away. The problem, though, is when she abandons me for a long period of time and it is absolutely essential that something is written. I’m sure you are familiar with this type of problem; it is usually referred to as ‘writer’s block.’

Everyone has suggestions for how to break the block. Some suggest just leaving your project for a little while, which I admit works if it is a short time break. The problem stems from the fact that, very often, writer’s block is a long term occurrence.

For this problem, the main suggestion I’ve received is to ‘just start writing.’ While this does sometimes work when I am writing a creative piece, it fails miserably when it comes to essays. It seems that stress is the only thing that is able to prod my Muse into wakefulness and it is dangerously easy for her to roll over and go back to sleep.

That is when caffeine becomes a key factor.

Drink coffee, pop, energy drinks, whatever hits your fancy. Then, when the energy hits you, sit down and write furiously. Don’t think too much about it; going back and editing is far easier than creating words to put upon the page. Skip your intro and just dig into the meat of the matter. Quote like a fiend and use synonyms to make barely passible sentences into matters of genius.

Note that this is only for desperate measures. Caffeine-induced writing is often of a lower caliber than Muse-induced writing, but sometimes there isn’t any other choice. I also realize that it may not have a good effect on others since this is just my personal method. For me, the energy caffeine gives me is the push I need to actually sit down and write, so try finding the push that will make you work.

To those of you who this fails on, I suggest finding your own way. I think that everyone has their own way of pushing through the block in dire times and that mine may not fit for you. If you have any other ideas, I would love to hear them. Leave a suggestion in the comments.

Challenging Your Thinking And, Consequentially, Your Writing

(Quick side note that is completely unrelated to the main topic of this blog post)

So, this blog has varied from its original purpose. I created this as a break from the writing I am forced into: essays, analysis, short answers, etc. I wanted a creative forum upon which I could write about whatever happened to float into my brain and then find out what people think about the topic, my writing, etc. But then, something unexpected happened.

Rather than covering a large range of topics whose only correlation is me as the writer, I have found myself writing almost exclusively about the method of writing myself. And yet, I don’t mind.

Writing is my passion. It is a creative outlet for the imagination that sometimes seems to be bursting out of the seams of my skull. It is only natural that the topic I like to talk about most would be the very thing upon which I spend most of my time thinking about. I don’t have many people in my life who feel the same way as I do, so this is the only place I really get to talk about it.

So, onward’s to today’s topic: imagination and challenging your natural thought processes.

First, I have a question for you. Do you dream a lot? Do you remember those dreams? For me, this is one of the major indications of how much my imagination is a major focus of my thoughts. I dream every night, without fail. And I usually remember what they are about as well. They tend to go in story format, with a plot line that my conscious mind predicts while experiencing it, and then alters into something new along a route that my subconscious decided to take. The first thing I do in the morning is tell someone about them and I usually get responses that follow along the same thread: You really dream like that? That’s so weird, how did you think of that? It isn’t intentional, it’s just how my mind naturally thinks. I like to experience new ideas and dreams are one of the creative outlets for that.

Second, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I am always imagining things happening around me that aren’t really happening. For several months I imagined that I was someone who could manipulate water and spent my time walking, or in boredom, imagining what uses I could put it to and how I would manipulate it. Lately, my focus has changed to everyone having an animal companion that matches the type of person they are. I’ve been figuring out how we would be bonded to our companions and what uses they would have in society. My main thing is to always imagine that there is a tiger pacing beside me, leaning against me, or even just falling asleep with its head in my lap. I’m trying to make it as real as possible so I can better see the possibilities of it. None of these ideas are relevant to the book I am writing, but I don’t think that particularly matters. If you focus yourself entirely upon one idea, it gets worn out and you lose interest. So, I try to mix it up a bit within my own mind while going through the necessary motions of normal life.

Finally, when your friend turns to you, excited and happy, and says, “Guess what happened me today?” do you reply with “What?” Try to vary it up a bit. Ask if they saw an ant carrying a leaf across the pavement, if a dog walked up to them and challenged them to a game of chess, or if there was a dragon that flew by their house and dropped a golden circlet on their sidewalk. Sure, all of these answers are probably wrong, but that’s not the point of this. The point is that A: your friend probably smiled at your answer and you amused them a little B: you exercised your imagination in a new way and C: you interacted in your life differently than normal and, as a result, saw the normal life around you differently, with more possibilities. As a writer, you are expected to think of ideas that others don’t without help. That’s not exactly an easy thing to do, so you need to exercise your brain. The world around you should become one of possibility, where under every fallen leaf and behind every lamp post there is a possible story to be told.

Now, I realize that I’m probably exceedingly eccentric for doing all of the above listed ideas, and that most people don’t spend as much time in their own head as I do. So, no, I don’t think you should do all of them and I don’t think they are necessary qualifications for an author. I do think, however, that writers are people who think differently and that difference is what allows them to see a story in something ordinary. That is why I challenge you to try and expand your thought process in some way. Take some time every day and make something ordinary extraordinary. Look at the chair in your living room and tell the story of the old lady who used to own it, how she used to sit and knit late into the evening while her husband whittled figurines next to her. Pick up your pop can and picture the gnome community that makes their home out of discarded cans and bottles and how cold they get in the winter. It doesn’t have to be weird and out there, as long as you are exercising yourself. For me, the challenge is to think of the old woman in her chair rather than the gnomes. I am instinctively drawn to the fantastical side of writing so my challenge is to think of things a little more obvious. For you, it may be the opposite. Don’t be afraid to dream of oddities; very often, those are what bring stories to life.