The Making of a Character Quirk
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.”
“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).
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)