Five Steps to Creating Characters—Step Three
In February I talked about Make a character likeable by making someone like them, linked below. In March I talked about Character Arcs, linked below
This month I’m talking about making characters quirky.
1. Make a character likeable by making someone like them
3. Give them quirks
4. My main character types
5. Avoid backstory dumps
Give them quirks. Quirks become a deep reflection of their true character and become a reminder of a rich backstory.
The thing that comes to mind with this one is, you need to get a piece of information to the reader and have the hero say it. Then later you change your mind about how to write the story and decide instead to impart this piece of information by having the heroine say it, it’s not enough to change the sentence tags. The ‘he said to she said’.
That whole sentence should be in her voice. The words should change. That part of quirks comes down to giving a character a voice that is uniquely hers. The heroine of my WIP is a seamstress. The hero is the overwhelmed widowed homesteading father of three girls. He has no idea what three half-grown girls need. These two do not choose the same words when they speak. They don’t have the same emotions behind their words. This should always be reflected in their reactions, their dialogue, their thoughts.
She thinks in turns of mending a rift, stitching ideas together, fitting pieces, finding patterns. He thinks
in terms of the land, planting, cattle, chores. These two don’t speak in the same way about the same thing. That’s a character’s voice.
I’ve used a lot of quirks is my soon-to-be released romance The Element of Love, book #1 of a new series. The opening of this speech is the opening of The Element of Love. My heroines are three brilliant sisters. Educated far beyond what was normal for women in 1870 California. As the daughters of a lumber baron, they are being raised to take over the dynasty he built. They’ve been educated as engineers in a time when the word engineer was a single catch-all description of applied science. Now there are computer engineers, chemical engineers, nuclear engineers, you name it there’s an engineer behind the break-throughs in that field. They are the men and woman applying the science of the day to the real world.
But back then they barely use the term engineer. I found the term civil engineer and those were builders. They were the men (and in my case the woman) who built the trestles across vast, deep, rugged gorges to build the Transcontinental Railroad.
Anyone who cana get there, should go see the Union Pacific Museum in Council Bluffs. Those trestles and bridges, the holes blasted in mountains, they are all a wonder. A marvel, especially for that era. 1870 was the heart of the industrial revolution. Inventions and progress in all areas was booming. I found out through my research that a self-propelled tractor already existed. It was really new. The tractor engine had been around for a while, but horses had to pull what they called a traction engine to where it was needed to work. But just before my book begins, they’d learned to hook wheels to the engine and then use that engine to drive the engine to where it was needed.
That’s part of the foundational invention behind the car.
My heroine in book one, The Element of Love is a chemical engineer before that was a thing. She and her sisters had as their dream, after the death of their father, to build his long-desired train tracks to the top of his mountain to haul logs down and haul supplies and people up. Heroine #1 has learned how to handle chemicals, most especially dynamite. She’s learned to survey rugged land so she can blast holes in mountains from opposite sides, working toward the middle. It went twice as fast as working from one end and going all the way through.
My heroine in book two is an inventor, a mechanical engineer and she’s not working on fun, womanly things like improving the sewing machine or inventing a clothes washer. She’s working on the braking system of a train. She’s improving the undercarriage of train cars so they can bear the weight of tons of logs. And her dream is to invent the four-stroke cycle engine, today called the internal combustion engine. It was an invention that had been theorized but had never yet been built. She’s got big dreams and just a nice underlying thirst for fame and fortune, which would come if she could just get that engine invented.
My third heroine is a civil engineer. She’s the one building those trestles, telling people how to use the iron she’s ordered to build a bridge and make sure the trestle won’t collapse under tons of logs and that massive iron train engine. I had them think in chemical terms and inventing terms, science terms and construction terms.
It’s tricky trying to create characters who are smarter than I am. I’m not sure I entirely succeeded. I’d say I’m pretty word smart. But these women knew math and science. They thought in term of height and weight, but also altitude and latitude, stress metal and force multipliers. I had to do a lot of research just to let them speak and then, of course, I couldn’t let them say stuff that was convoluted and inaccessible and, let’s face it, boring.
So my brilliant sisters were tricky and very quirky. I also set out from the beginning to figure out a way that my heroines were in a place of peril at the end of each book and she used her scientific, engineering skills to save herself. Which was challenging and fun.
These women were quirky.
19 Comments on Seekerville: The Journey Continues: Five Steps to Creating Characters—Step Three
I love this: "These two do not choose the same words when they speak. They don’t have the same emotions behind their words. This should always be reflected in their reactions, their dialogue, their thoughts."
It's hard work to make sure my characters sound like themselves and not just another aspect of my own personality! Word choice is one thing - and when I'm writing the first draft, that's pretty much all that distinguishes one character's dialogue and inner thoughts from another's - but getting the goals and motivation, desires, dislikes, etc into the character takes digging. You really have to know that character before you can make them come alive on the page like that.
Hmmm... That's pretty much what creating characters is all about, isn't it?
Thanks for this great post, Mary!"
Great post, Mary!"
Sounds like this series required lots of research! I'm impressed! Congrats, Mary, on your continued success!"
I read a long time on the periodic table. This era, the 1870s was a wild and exciting time of progress and invention in the math and science arena."