You know a quirky character when you see one. Maybe they wear exclusively bright colors, or have an offbeat sense of humor, or speak primarily in pop culture references (ahem, that last one would be all of my characters). They populate the charming small towns of television shows like "Gilmore Girls," where almost everyone is at least a little bit quirky, and they provide seasoning to the worlds of our favorite novels, particularly those of the romantic comedy variety.
Personally, I prefer to make most of my characters quirky—it keeps things interesting for me! Real life can sometimes be boring, and it’s nice to create a fictional escape. But how do you actually write quirky characters that rival the wacky BFFs in your favorite rom-coms?
Here are a few ideas I like to keep in mind—maybe they’ll work for you!
4 Tips for Writing Quirky Characters
Think about your real life.
Human beings are endlessly interesting, confusing, and just plain weird … that is, if you take the time to look at them. You might not think of the people in your life as quirky, but everyone has things that make them unique individuals. And that’s all you’re doing when you create a quirky character—writing an individual who stands out from the crowd.
Think about your sister, your best friend, or your elderly neighbor … what are the things that make them who they are? Not only will this remind you that the best characters are well-rounded and full of their own individual quirks, but it might even show you some specific traits you can work into your characters.
In my new book, Very Sincerely Yours, Teddy is an adult woman who’s a dedicated viewer of a specific children’s television show, which is an idea I got from … well, myself, after I wound up watching a ton of children’s television with my son. Even if you don’t find inspiration from the people around you, try looking at your own quirks and seeing how they could translate to your characters.
… But remember that this isn’t real life.
The kind of person who might be super annoying if you had to hang out with them every day might be incredibly hilarious as a side character who shows up a few times in a book. To take an example from television, would I want to hang out with Kirk from Gilmore Girls every day? No, I would not. But do I laugh whenever he’s on screen? For sure.
One of the best things about fiction is that it isn’t real, and the world of rom-coms is populated by people who might be just a little too quirky to function in the real world. They may not necessarily be realistic, but in a make-believe world, they work.
In Very Sincerely Yours, Teddy befriends a young girl named Gretel who’s precocious, writing a graphic novel about her own life, and interested in the world of vintage toys. Do I routinely come across wiser-than-their-years children who end up teaching me a thing or two about life? No, but I kind of wish I did, and that’s why writing Gretel was so much fun!
Keep them grounded.
A book cannot survive on quirks alone. It’s important that your more eccentric characters have someone tethering them to reality. In romance, this is often accomplished by having one character who’s a little more staid falling in love with a character who has their head in the clouds. This also provides the contrast that a romance needs. You can also give a quirky character some down-to-earth friends to juxtapose with their weirdness.
In Very Sincerely Yours, Everett is a work-obsessed puppeteer who hosts a children’s television show and idolizes Mr. Rogers and Jim Henson. His best friend and his coworkers appreciate his uniqueness but are also there to remind him when he’s obsessing about retro television.
And who could forget the classic example of this in, once again, Gilmore Girls: Lorelai, a fast-talking, pop-culture-referencing, funky clothes wearing single mom falls in love with Luke, a grumpy, baseball cap wearing diner owner. The contrast proves that opposites attract.
Give them a reason.
Quirks don’t exist in a vacuum. If your character exclusively wears brightly colored dresses, maybe it’s because she has a difficult life and is determined to bring cheer to herself and everyone she meets (as is the case with Chloe, the heroine of my book Not Like the Movies). If your character is afraid of riding a bike, maybe it’s because they had a traumatic accident as a child (like Teddy from Very Sincerely Yours).
Maybe your character has an outsized fear of swans or a silly catchphrase or a love of dramatic hats. No matter what it is, give them a reason to do, say, or wear those things. Not only will this give your character a dose of reality, but it will also force you to develop their backstory in ways that will make them feel more real.
These are just my tips, and they may not work for your or be applicable to your writing at all. Maybe a quirky character is actually incredibly out of place in your dark and twisted murder mystery or tragic historical fiction. But if you write something that needs a little levity, these ideas might help you add a few quirks to your characters (or, at the very least, encourage you to revisit the world of Gilmore Girls).