Monday 25 February 2019

Twitches and Habits - Why Characters Shouldn't Be Perfect

By Cassandra Samuels

When I start to create a character I often see them in my mind. They aren't fully formed but they all have something about them that stands out - makes them more interesting - like a quirk, a habit or a physical mark that has a backstory that is necessary to the character.

In my current novel Collector of Hearts. I've given Quinn, the hero's best friend, a small quirky habit.

In the seconds after the commands were issued, Robert turned side on, presenting the smallest target. He lifted his pistol, narrowed his eyes down the sight and registered the panic in the other man’s eyes before he squeezed the trigger. The sound of gunfire boomed into the air like a marauding army. It filled the area with the acrid smell of gunpowder. Several men were already dashing towards the fallen Butterworth. Quinn tugged at his waistcoat, as he always did in a show of nervous distress, then he rushed over to Robert who dropped the pistol into Quinn’s gloved hands. 

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Quinn continues to have this quirk of pulling at his waistcoat throughout the book. Why did I give him this nervous habit? To give him a little more depth of character. It was a good way to show when he was nervous, or anxious about a situation or conversation without having to explain it every time. And Robert does put him through some anxious moments.

I could have made him straighten his cuffs or, like my heroine in my first book A Scandalous Wager, give her another habit that grates on the nerves of the hero no end.

She leant closer to the window to try and catch the lamplight on her pocket watch. He knew how she felt; he was thinking the same thing. Was this carriage ride ever going to end?

“I wish you would put that thing away,” Oliver said, folding his arms across his chest. It must have been the fifth time she’d done it since getting in the carriage. If she was going to do it all night it was going to drive him to drink - heavily.

“I must know what the time is,” she stated, her voice as cool as ever.

“Does it really matter if we are a few minutes late?” He was baiting her on purpose, and he knew it was dangerous considering what was in her reticule, but it was dark so he did have an advantage.

“Yes, it does.”

He waited. Nothing. “Is this another one of your theories, Countess? I suppose we men can’t be trusted with timepieces either? God forbid we may tell each other the wrong time.”

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For Lisbeth, I gave her the burden of constantly needing to check the time. In order to keep her sanity, she scheduled everything, and I gave her two tools: a pocket watch and a schedule. Breaking this timed schedule in any way caused her no end of angst. And no end of annoyance for Oliver.

These two small examples show just how using some kind of quirk or physical burden can enhance a character. Who wants to read a perfect character anyway?

Do you have a favourite character in a book who has an interesting quirk, twitch or habit?

Love to Love: To create characters who have unusual quirks and habits.

Love to Laugh: Watching my grandsons play in the pool. They are such water babies.

Love to Learn: About how I can create other wonderful characters by reading and studying real-life people.


  1. I love it when characters have a particular characteristic! I think it makes them unique, and gives the reader some 'unstated' cues as to their state of mind. Dickens does it a lot, so you are in good company Cassandra. It's a marvellous idea and deepens characterisation. Well done you.

    1. Totally agree Miranda. I think it one of the reasons Dicken's characters are so well remembered.

  2. Well said both Cassandra and Miranda! Couldn’t agree more.

  3. An enjoyable post, thanks Cassandra. I've always loved the way Anne ('Anne of Green Gables') loved to chat and had no filter. That plus her bright red hair made her a memorable character for me.

  4. Yes her imaginative chatter did annoy and endear her to the other characters in the book.

  5. Thanks for such an interesting post, Cassandra. I especially enjoy books with character quirks that are integral to the plot like Harry Potter's scar. Sometimes a quirk reveals more about a character like Jane Eyre's artworks showing a depth of emotion she doesn't convey in her speech.


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