Got Quirks?

I have this thing about time.

My alarm is set for 5:41 a.m. (Sundays 7:53 a.m.). If recipe directions say bake for 25-30 minutes, I’ll pick 26, 27, 28, or 29—but not 25 or 30—minutes.

When I warm my coffee in the microwave, I use one minute and two seconds.

Never, ever, do I set things for exactly on the hour or half hour.

Is that a quirk? I can’t explain it. But when I’ve tried to overcome it, I usually fail.

Quirks make characters memorable

We all have quirks. I’m not talking about Monk-like OCD compulsions (I did love that show, however), but little idiosyncrasies that make us who we are.

Think about the character of Christopher Snow in Dean Koontz’ books Fear Nothing (1997) and Seize the Night (1998). Christopher has xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP, a rare genetic disorder that requires him to avoid ultraviolet light (daylight).

Not exactly a quirk, but throughout the novels Christopher’s condition creates, necessarily, interesting quirks that contribute to the books’ plots in ways that would make the books impossible without them.

Another great example is the character of Uriah Heep in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. Heep was a greedy man whose quirk was rubbing his hands together as he spoke, as if gleefully anticipating how he was going to cheat someone. Or was he subconsciously wiping his hands of the dirty money he blackmails his boss for?

Character quirks (or hooks or tags) can make your characters more interesting, more memorable. Properly chosen (Uriah Heep), these personality ticks can reveal more than mere preferences and can provide critical plot points (Christopher Snow).

Up the tension or drama

In my current manuscript, one of the characters has a habit of clicking his ballpoint pen when he’s nervous. Okay, maybe not highly original or even all that unusual. But, in a key scene his quirk becomes a way to drive the scene and increase the pace to a frantic pitch.

Character quirks are another tool in your writer’s toolbox. Use them well and you can create a character, and a novel, for the ages. But beware of overindulging a quirk—too much and your character becomes a cartoon.


  1. What’s your favorite character quirk you’ve created or read about? Why did it work so well?
  2. Was it merely for entertainment, or did the quirk run deeper?
  3. How could my quirk about time be used as something more in a manuscript?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line


7 thoughts on “Got Quirks?

  1. I read detective novels and they all (mostly) have quirks that I had not thought about. Oliver Stone (one of David Baldacci’s characters) closes his eyes and relives crime scenes. I can just see him doing that.
    Your “quirk” is a detail that would mark you in a detective novel.
    Hope to see you at 6:29 next Monday!

  2. Cool thoughts! I always set my timers/alarms for odd numbers, making my hubby wonder. I loved Scarlett O’Hara’s quirk of always telling herself “Tomorrow’s another day” anytime things looked rough (or when she did something crazy!). One of the primary characters in my Viking novel has a tendency to climb trees when things get rough. My main character blushes at the most inopportune times. And yes, these quirks are definitely indicative of my characters’ personalities and how they deal w/stress.

    • I have never met anyone else who does the time thing! Most people make fun of me. My wife has gotten used to it, however. I think it is a flouting of authority coming out in my normally placid self. “no one’s going to tell me when to get up!” heh heh. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Michael – You are not alone in this universe! 🙂

        I DO the time thing. I’ve even spent time purposely thinking about what time to use. AND, being the geeky kind of guy I am, I have a tendency to use values that represent computer RAM (random access memory). Such as – 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 640. I have no doubt my wife could swap stories with your wife in that regard.

        MUST go set my alarm for 5:12

        I’ve even got clocks in the house that are not the same time, on purpose. How quirky is that? I’d probably change the time on my phone if the Sprint network didn’t countermand my actions.

        I also love prime numbers and multiples of prime numbers.

        And I had to jump in because you mentioned one of my favorite authors – Dean Koontz.

        Heather – love the idea of climbing a tree when things get tough. Nice image.



      • Michael –

        Odd Thomas is one of my favorite characters and I am most definitely looking forward to the release of the new book in a few days. I’ve been reading the short works … Odd Interlude 1 & 2. I’ve got Odd Interlude 3 left to go and want to finish it before Odd Apocalypse releases. I don’t know if you’ve read them but they fall in-between Odd Hours & Odd Apocalypse. Koontz is a master are characterization and suspense. I love that his characters have layers to them.

        Can’t wait for the release!

        Congrats on launching this site by the way. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.



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