I sent out my manuscript for reading and when it returned I wept a little. I honestly debated printing it out physically just to light it on fire. I like symbolism.
One of the comments I received in the early pages was that my characters had moments of life, but then they fell flat. They merged together into one, like clay that wasn’t thrown in the kiln before putting it near other sculptures, so the clay went back together, returning to a natural form.
This led me to soul search in an attempt to figure out how to make each character unique. Obviously there is dialogue, but I’m still tackling this. At the moment, I have each character gaining some sort of pattern they repeat, whether it’s a word or phrase they say at least once a scene (“Old sport” from Jay Gatsby) or sentence structure (“…the dark side of the Force are they” from Yoda). I’m sure there are other ways to individualize dialogue better, and I’m researching currently.
However, right now I’m focusing on character quirks. Quirks are weird habits which bring the character to life. We all have quirks, even our pets have quirks. The cat that acts like a dog. The tiger that plays well with a lion and bear. The man who took a vow of silence. The woman who spits on all her plates for a final polish. I’ve created a character sheet, and below “merits” and “flaws” there is now “quirks”.
Gimli and Legolas had their friendship, despite racial differences. It showed up in games, despite violent situations. In Pokemon (I know, now we’re talking some high fantasy literature) Ash cannot for the life of him think out a move. He will always take the hardest path. In Frozen, Anna is doomed to awkwardness. Kristoff is doomed to talk to himself and eat carrots from the mouth of a reindeer.
Quirks make us remember. They make us relate. If you write a character who gets chronic bloody noses, my dad and I will understand that character. After last night my bed looks like a scene from CSI. Perhaps you will relate to Kessem, my character who loathes the sound of dripping water. We can nearly all relate to the kid who refuses to listen to his parents. A few of us can relate to the kid who refuses to admit he listens, but ultimately does what he’s told in his own time and way. Perhaps it’s the way a dame in a speak easy always smokes with her left hand, though she does everything else with her right.
My challenge to you is go out of your way to find quirks people have. Discover your own. I bet you have at least five. I bleed like a faucet, play Pokemon, enjoy cartoons as a grown man, have a personal library, and make horrible puns. I’m only grazing the surface. Remember, quirks aren’t necessarily huge, they’re just things that are odd compared to the society we live in. While I surround myself with cartoon-watching, Pokemon-playing friends, it’s still rare.
Once you’ve done that, make sure to consciously tack them onto each and every character you conjure. Put a side note area for quirks and throw it in there. If you already know what it is, that’s great. It’s a character you obviously already love and have brought to life. That character is making the rest jealous. Practice equality. Give them all quirks.
Also, if you have a particular place you found good for learning dialogue tricks, please post them down below. That’s my next area to work on for the edits and I could use some aid. Might write about that next time based on what I find and what everyone helps me find.
Finally, I know it’s a day late, but for those in the states, blessed Memorial Day. For anyone in any democratic country, remember your warriors who fight and die for the rights we assume and take for granted every day. I’m not saying we’re horrible, it’s just we can’t possibly understand what it is to live in these other countries without having actually been there. So enjoy.