Contest, Guest Blog

Guest Blog and Contest with Jeri Smith-Ready

The Making of a Character Quirk

by Jeri Smith-Ready

When we think of “quirky characters,” the first who come to mind are the secondary folks – the heroine’s best friend with a Doritos addiction, or the hero’s uncle who builds a shrine to his old bowling trophies.

The quirky characters are often the best-loved or best-remembered. They provide comic relief. They make the hero or heroine look well-balanced by comparison. They round out the cast and bring color to the created world.

Rarely do the hero or heroine possess many quirks. They’re supposed to be the “normal” ones, after all, the ones the readers can relate to. By definition, a quirk is a trait or idiosyncrasy unique to one person (or at least within that story).

Despite that, I decided to give my vampire hero, Shane McAllister, an odd little quirk. Or rather, an odd big quirk. See, he has a thing about the alphabet.

Wait, let me back up.

There’s an old Eastern European legend that says that vampires are what we would now call obsessive-compulsive. In Poland they used to say that to keep vamps away from your door, you should scatter rice grains on your walkway, and the vampire would stop to count them. (Is that where Jim Henson got his idea for the Count from Sesame Street, or was it just a play on the word “count”? Or both?)

The vampires of Wicked Game and Bad to the Bone are “stuck in time” – culturally and psychologically frozen in the era in which they were made. It makes them great DJs, because who better to deliver the music of a time better than someone who lived in it, who lives in it still?

But they sometimes have trouble living in the current wold, and that tension brings up some, er, odd traits. Each of the vampire DJs manifests a particular compulsive behavior. For Regina, the punk/Goth DJ, it’s counting, and for Shane, it’s sorting. It’s the only way for them to feel sane.

For instance, the moment Shane enters the bedroom of our heroine Ciara, he gets distracted by her out-of-order CDs. He sits on her floor and starts soring them, much to her dismay. But being a relatively young vampire, he retains enough normalcy to know how weird it seems:

(from Wicked Game)

“You think I’m crazy,” he says quietly, not looking at me

“No, I think you’re funny. But honestly, the joke is getting a little old.”

“I don’t blame you for not believing I’m a vampire.” The last word comes out stilted, the way someone might pronounce a foreign phrase. “It sounds insane.”

“Hey, I know: I’ll tie you to my bedpost until sunrise. If you burst into flames, it’ll prove you’re not kidding.”

He jerks his head toward me, and I swear for a moment I see genuine fear. Then he blinks and turns back to the CDs. “Give me a hand here?”

I sigh and slide off the bed. “Sure, what better way to spend a Friday night?”

“There’s four stacks.” He taps each one in turn. “A through G, H through N, O through T, and the rest.”

“Is that a statistical thing based on the probability of band names, so that the piles end up exactly even?”

He looks at me with awe. “No, but that’s a great idea.”

I take a handful and start sorting. “So what system is it? It can’t be the same number of letters, because four doesn’t go evenly into twenty-six.”

He hesitates. “It’s stupid.”

“Tell me.”

“No, you’ll laugh.”

“I promise I won’t.”

HE straightens out the CDs I just tossed onto the H-N pile so that their edges line up. “When I was a kid I had a magnetic play desk, Fisher-Price or some s*** like that. The letters were in four rows, in different colors. I still see the alphabet in my head that way.” He looks at me. “In case you had any doubt I was a freak.”

Later in the scene, Ciara takes things into her own hands.

I lean past him for more CDs. This time I brush against him on purpose, and not just my arm. I risk a glance at his face.

Shane looks at me, then at the CDs, then at me again, and so on. Something’s stuck. I keep watching him. The rhythm of his breath turns uneven.

“Let me help you choose.” I seize his shirt collar and pull him to kiss me.

Our mouths meet, and his shyness dissolves. His arms snap me tights against him like a trap. The combination of his hands, lips, and tongue sends an urgent heat rippling through me, obliterating all thoughts but “must have” and “now.”

So while Shane’s compulsion is pretty powerful, it’s not all-powerful. The struggle between his innate vampire nature and his feeling for Ciara are part of what make him “human,” sympathetic, and three-dimensional (at least I hope he comes across that way). Ciara makes it her personal quest to keep him planted in the present so that he never loses his humanity.

Who are some of your favorite quirky characters in books, TV, and movies? Are they usually supporting characters? What about main characters? Does having a quirk make a character more or less believable?

One lucky commenter will win their choice between a signed copy of Wicked Game and an Advance Review Copy of the sequel, Bad to the Bone (coming May 19).

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Thank you, Jeri, for guest blogging today! The contest will run through Sunday at midnight. The winner will be announced on Monday. (If your comment doesn’t show up immediately don’t worry – I have to approve some and I’ll be on the road till after 4 today)

wicked-gamebad-to-the-bone

36 Comments

  1. Christine Moore

    My all time quirky character on TV is Zack from Bones. He is so book smart but not very common sense smart. He is no longer on the show but I really miss him. Zack provided some very laugh out loud moments on the series and he will be missed.

  2. CrystalGB

    Hi Jeri. Your vampires sound good. My favorite quirky character is Monk from the tv show. He has lots of quirks. πŸ™‚

  3. Cathy M

    Hi Jeri, love quirky characters, especially for the humor. Right now,the tv show, Fringe, has some doosies, Life, the lead character has a zen humor thing going on, and I like the new show, Castle. I agree about Monk, Crystal, he is the ultimate quirky character.

  4. Crystal: I keep meaning to watch MONK, since I have OCD characters in my series, too. And I love Tony Shaloub. Did you ever see GALAXY QUEST? He was the funniest part of that very funny movie.

    Teresa: Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy Bad to the Bone.

    Cathy M: I’ve heard good things about Fringe and Castle. I wish I had more time to watch TV these days. Some of the best writing is now on the small screen. I’m just afraid that my TiVo will turn into another version of the TBR pile! πŸ˜‰

  5. Hi Jeri,

    I’ve had multiple favorites, starting with simple cartoon characters. Batman, for instance: a tough superhero with a shady past…and a fear of bats.

    Superman, with his weakness for Kryptonite.

    Any of the many wonderful characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Druscilla, with her mental instability, Anya with her terror of bunnies.

    Quirks can be defined as vices as well; odd habits, tics, flaws…

    I think that it is impossible to have a realistic character without weakness or flaw. There is balance in imperfection.

    Secondary characters usually have only one little quirk, maybe a funky tie, shiny shoes, he smokes, flips a coin constantly, etc.

    If you want to build a memorable character, yes. You gotta have quirks.

  6. Amy

    Love Wicked Game and Shane! My favorite quirky character has got to be Grandma Mazur from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. And for film . . . my vote goes to Shirley Valentine. No one can talk to a wall like Shirley can!

    Can’t wait for Bad to the Bone!

    Amy πŸ™‚

  7. Abby

    Loved Wicked Game! As soon as I was done, bookmarked Jeri’s website. And then found her on twitter to follow. No, I’m not a stalker, just anxiously awaiting the release of Bad to the Bone! Can’t wait to read it!

  8. Margay

    I love quirky characters whether they are the main character or a supporting one. Take Joan Cusack, for instance. This actress has made a career out of playing quirky characters (Julia Roberts’ best friend in Runaway Bride, for example) and I love her for it.
    Margay

  9. Yvonne

    Well, see, I don’t know as I’d call these characters quirky…….to me they’re just normal in the way that Shane is “normal” in the above cuts from the book. That kind of thing is simply a part of who he is.

    Based on that, think my favorites from shows are Monk(own show), Dr. Jacob Hood (The Eleventh Hour-CBS), and Gil Grissom (CSI). From books is a little harder to pin down (and this in spite of the tonnage of books I have a tendency to read). Thinking about it, I’d be making this list a mile long as I couldn’t really pick and choose my favorites.

    And, yes, for me, the character – irregardless of being either main or supporting – having a quirk makes him/her more believable as I think that we all have our quirks in tiny or larger than life ways.

  10. Theresa Brundage

    Great thoughts, as usual, Jeri!
    Quirky characters, huh? Of course, Monk is the obvious. I adored Wash in Firefly and currently, Dr. Bishop on Fringe.
    Looking forward to BTTB!

  11. I like Rachel Morgan from the Hollows series by Kim Harrison. Usually I really like the main characters, probably because it’s easier to get to know them. I think a character is has a quirk is more believable because everyone has a quirk.

  12. Susan

    I can’t believe no one’s mentioned the characters from “Scrubs”
    you can’t get any quirkier than that. The lawyer (Buckland) —singing Cappella with the Janitor & the way all the characters stop in mid conversation to play out a daydream………funny & quirky. It’s the supporting actors that make us wonder why does the main character even associate with this strange person.

  13. Hi Jeri!
    I love the colors they used for the cover to BAD TO THE BONE! I’ve read the first two of your Raven books and hope to get the 3rd one soon, so lots to look forward to of yours. I’d love to be in this contest!

    I watch alot of older shows, especially TV Land. I can’t hear so when I was younger, I couldn’t understand these shows so now I finally get to understand them. I watch alot of The Andy Griffith show and there’s a couple quirky characters there like Goober (he’s the one with the garage and went on to have his own show, i think it was called USMC ) and Barney of course! He’s the sheriff’s deputy!

  14. Jennifer L

    I think my favorite quirky character(s) (it’s a trio) were the Lone Gunmen from the X-Files. Can’t think of anyone quirkier than that.

  15. Debbie G in NY

    HI Jeri!
    I’m currently reading WICKED GAME now and am loving every minute of it. Thanks for writing such an intoxicating story & characters! BTW Loved when Ciara took charge to help Shane choose!! lol (thata’ girl! lol)
    Quirky characters… The one that comes to mind for me right now off the top of my head is from a TV show… The Big Bang Theory. Actually I think all the characters on that show have a quirk or two that make them such fun to watch, but my favorite of them all has to be Sheldon. He’s never ceases to keep me laughing through each episode with all of his idiosyncrasies. He’s a brilliant mind that doesn’t like things to change from what he’s used to, etc. He’s just absolutely fantastic!
    Anyway, I can’t wait for May to get my hands on Bad to the Bone as well and see how the story continues!!
    Thanks for sharing the crew of WVMP with us and best wishes to you!

  16. Had to skip through so I didn’t get any spoilers from your books!

    I think that quirks make characters more believable. Really, who wants to read about absolutely perfect characters? My personal quirk is that I’m a tabula rasa reader – I have a very, very short memory for what I’ve read (which makes it delightful to re-read books I’ve previously read and loved, but sort of sucky to read an extended series that’s bogged down in a lot of intricacies), so a host of quirky characters aren’t coming to mind at the moment…. Um… Oh! Pick nearly any member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. All very quirky. And it totally works for all of them except Phury. Phury’s just annoying.

  17. Oh wow, this is the first time I’ve heard of you or your books, and those excerpts make me want to run out and buy them right now. Looks like you managed to make vampires fresh and interesting again with those quirks, and that you revered the typical power dynamic. MUST READ.

  18. Donna S

    I loved Wicked Game and cant wait for Bad to the Bone to come out.

    I like my quirky characters to usually be the supporting characters in the stories. It doesnt bother me if the main characters occasionally have them but I like it best in the supporting characters.

    Monk is great. He plays that part so perfectly. And I agree he was also so good in Galaxy Quest and back when he was on Wings.

  19. ZhyeGoatt

    Dr. Gregory House from the tv show “House” and Harry Dresden from the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher have to be my top favorite quirky characters. Olive on the tv show “Pushing Daisies” was pretty fun too, actually everything about that show was pretty quirky. I miss that show.

  20. Carrie: Ooh, Dru and Anya were two of my favorites from Buffy!

    Amy: Thanks! Grandma Mazur is a great example.

    Abby: Thanks for finding me and, uh, following me. Hee, you’re right, that does sound stalkerish. πŸ˜‰ I just love Twitter.

    Sara: Oh, that reminds me, I still want to see that movie Juno. Have to convince the husband, or maybe I can just watch it on my computer using Netflix.

    Margay: I love Joan Cusack! Have you ever seen MY BLUE HEAVEN with Steve Martin and Rick Moranis? She plays a really straight-laced character in that, but is as adorable as ever.

  21. Yvonne: Good point–there’s probably a difference between a quirk and a character trait.

    Theresa: OK, I really need to start watching MONK. Thanks for your comment–hope you enjoy Bad to the Bone!

    Bridget: That’s a good point as well. Ooh, maybe a better question would have been, what’s *your* quirk? πŸ™‚

    Susan: I love that show! I’ve only seen eps here and there, but it always cracks me up.

    Caffey: I love the cover, too! The brown really stands out from the crowd. Andy Griffith was definitely full of fun characters.

    Jennifer: That was a great show! I haven’t seen the movies yet, though.

    Debbie: Thank you so much! I’m glad you’re enjoying Wicked Game. I’ve heard really good things about the Big Bang Theory. I married a geek, but he’s nothing like those guys. If anything, I’m the weird one in the house. God forbid someone load the dishwasher ineptly. πŸ˜‰ I think that’s where a lot of Shane’s traits came from, an exaggeration of my own thoughts and quirks.

    Chris: I’m the same way. I’ve picked up several books thinking i hadn’t read them, only to realize (near the end) that I already had. So I started writing down the books and movies I’d read and seen so I wouldn’t forget. πŸ™‚

    attackfish: Yay, fresh blood! πŸ˜‰ I’m glad you liked the excerpt. Hope you enjoy the books!

  22. Roberta Harwell

    Two of the quirky characters who I like the most are Dr. Jack Hodgins from Bones and Dr. Nigel Townsend from Crossing Jordan. Hodgins sends my heart a flutter. Nigel is just too cute.

    Have a great day.

  23. Donna S.: Thanks! Hope you enjoy Bad to the Bone. πŸ™‚

    ZhyeGoatt: I really wish I’d seen Pushing Daises. I was told I’d love it. But I love Dr. House and Harry Dresden.

    Hmm, I wonder if male leads can get away with more quirks than female ones. *ponders*

    Albert: Now that show I HAVE seen. Loved it.

  24. Who are some of your favorite quirky characters in books, TV, and movies?

    Mine I would have to say are Betsy from MaryJanice Davidson books, she is just too much. Plus, her best friend thinks it’s the coolest thing that she’s a vampire queen!

    Are they usually supporting characters?

    Not all of them. Some of the ohter characters I like are the main characters.

    What about main characters? Does having a quirk make a character more or less believable?

    I think it adds to the character. The more quirky the better!

  25. Hi Jeri ~

    Loved WICKED GAME and can’t wait to read BAD TO THE BONE. You’ve certainly put a new spin on the vampire mythology.

    Some of my favorite quirky characters are Kramer from Seinfeld and Peabody from the In Death series.

    And there’s absolutely nothing abnormal about a Doritos addiction. πŸ™‚

  26. Ruthie S: I love Betsy! She’s one of my favorite all-time vampires, too. Hers was the first funny vampire story I read, and it was a relief to see that they don’t always have to be super serious and melodramatic. So when I later had the idea for Wicked Game, I didn’t hesitate to make them fun, the way I wanted.

  27. One of my favorite quirky characters was Sophia from Golden Girls. I swear, I’m not that old, but Estelle Getty was hilarious! Honestly, she made the show.

    I really can’t think of any other character that really stands out to me. Well, there is Jim the demon dog from the Aisling Grey novels by Katie MacAlister. He’s a riot too.

  28. Christen D

    My favorite quirky character from tv is Alice, from the L Word. My favorite quirky character from movies is Lars, from Lars and the Real Girl. And my favorite quirky character from books is Stefan, from Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.

    I personally think that a quirky character makes a character more memorable and believable, because no one is ever completely normal.

  29. Leslie and Jackie: Those are all great examples! It’s amazing what people can come up with.

    I think these are the last comments, so I’ll sign off. It’s been great chatting with you, and good luck to everyone in the drawing! πŸ™‚

  30. Christen D: Sorry, I missed your comment–the older ones keep popping up after mine because of the moderation.

    You make a great point about no one being completely normal. Even robot and android characters end up having some quirks. Maybe the most fascinating character in the world would be who was totally normal, but I don’t think anyone would believe it.. πŸ™‚

  31. I heart book gossip

    Who are some of your favorite quirky characters in books, TV, and movies? I always liked Sawyer from Lost. He’s hot and quirky. Lots of charisma too.
    I think in a book or a movie, there has to be at least one quirky person. If not the storyline dies and starts lagging.

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