Characters take over a story, that’s a fact. Often a very memorable character takes over our lives while we read or write a story. And who doesn’t love personality, odd quirks and memorable attributes? These enhance a story and create opportunities for misunderstandings, misinterpretations and mishaps. And also chances for conflict, humor and tenderness.
1) Phobias: Great heroes and heroines possess private fears; i.e. situations they’d rather avoid. So how about a fear of snakes (Indiana Jones) or the fear of heights (the Green Lantern) or a bat phobia that leads to becoming Batman? A heroine can be shy and overcompensate or impulsive and stutter. Bridgett Jones comes to mind or Kate in Taming of the Shrew. And then there are obsessions, Ahab in Moby Dick, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre.
2) Physical attributes: Though a wandering eye or the pox may not make a character endearing, other quirks can. Glasses, for instance, can be sexy, but what if the hero or heroine is too vain to admit they need them? Maybe a leading lady can’t decide on a hair color and continually experiments. Or the leading man wears plaid shorts winter and summer, stylishly clueless.
More quirky? Okay. What about a hero or heroine with a bionic limb? With so many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, true heroes, wearing prosthetic limbs, why not a leading man or lady fitted with a robotic leg. It isn’t science fiction anymore. After all, a man with two missing lower legs ran in the Olympics! Pretty cool, right? How many ways can this concept be sexy or heroic or superhuman?
3) Behavioral quirks: Twisting of rings, snapping watch bands, twirling hair strands, inability to sit still, pencil tappers, strange key-chain charms, bumper stickers, cowlicks, ties that never hang straight, favorite but really dumb hats, each of us can create our own list of odd, uncool quirks we hide away like naughty children.
We seem to have a need for perfect heroes and heroines. But isn’t it more fun if the leading man loses his temper and learns to apologize or the leading lady acts like a jerk and has to make it up with a sweet gesture? Men lose their patience and bulldoze into situations. Women are self-conscious, worry about their hair and talk too loud. When forced into a look-your-worst, talk-softly and be-patient or die situation the plot gets way more interesting.
I love a story that challenges and ‘flips’ characters. Because the more quirks or ‘weakness’, the more occasions for him or her to overcome, grow, fix, repair, change and evolve. Or not! Perhaps they learn to accept themselves for who they are as they see themselves through the eyes of a lover. And how romantic is that?
Pam B. Morris, author of Smitten Image, a story brimming with fears, quirks, magic and mayhem.