How do you write a character that audiences will love and invest their feelings into?
How do you make people sympathize with your characters?
These are important questions which often get asked, but answered on a superficial level. Character writing isn't as simple as "goals, motivations, backstory, flaw."
Although these elements are indeed the backbone of a strong character, every writer, and their mother, and their mother's dog knows how to give their character a goal and backstory.
In order to captivate your audiences, you'll need to be one step ahead of the pack and have a good understanding of the minute details of what makes a character great.
Think of it like this: The basic stuff (goals, motivation, backstory etc.) is like a cake without the icing. Although the cake is very important, it's the minor details (the icing) which will make the cake memorable.
There are many little details which add up to make the 'icing' on the cake. In this post, I'm only going to focus on one detail which has worked extremely well for me and hopefully for you too. I might cover other details in another post.
Make Your Characters Come to Life using Quirks
When I was starting out, I had a very strong understanding of the basics. I knew how to give my character realistic motivations, flaws that open potential for conflicts, a strong moral argument and a strong turning point (realization + change).
Even so, I still ran into a problem that even other professionals encounter: The character still feels bland and just won't come to life, no matter how well I do the basics. It almost feels formulaic - as if the character were there solely to serve the purpose of the plot.
The worst thing of all is that the characters all sound the same. They talk alike, and they walk alike. Even if characters switched dialogue lines, they wouldn't feel out of place.
It's quite difficult to give a unique 'voice' to each character when you're just one person writing multiple people. How did I manage to solve this problem? I simply added quirks to my characters.
The solution was quite simple, but ultra effective. Quirks serve as the missing ingredient: the icing on the cake. If it is used alone, it is amateurish and won't yield any depth, but once you've established a strong backbone for your character (goals, motivations etc.), quirks are what make the character stand out in our minds.
A great example here would be 'L' from Death Note.
Here's a list of his quirks:
- He eats only sweets
- He likes to play with his food
- He talks with his mouth full
- He bites his fingernails in front of other people
- Lastly, he has an unusual way of sitting. He claims that if he sits normally, his deductive skills would fall by 40%
'L' is seen as an eccentric person, masterful at solving impossible cases. Remove all his quirks and what are you left with? Basically this guy:
Without his quirks, he is pretty much the same character as the main character - Light Yagami - your stereotypical genius. No matter who you prefer, it'd be pretty dull if all the characters were the same right?
Quirks are what differentiate your characters from one another. It gives them a unique 'voice' and makes them stand out from not only the other characters in your story, but also characters from other stories. Give the stereotypical 'tough guy' some interesting quirks and that can change them from being a boring cliché to an enlightening individual.
Here are some of my favorite quirky characters, what are yours?