Tics, Eccentricities, and Realism


I had hoped this week’s post would be from a photo shoot of my newly remodeled writing room, but for reasons that are too numerous to go into, that isn’t happening. Maybe for the next post the built-in cabinets will be in place and the books and stuff will be on them. Maybe.

Instead, I thought I’d talk about realism in characters. Most of the time when I talk about character believability I bring up strengths and weaknesses, but this time I want to share a bit about eccentricities. All the best characters have little things that make them feel real, things that stick out when you try to describe the character to someone else. Like Jack Reacher’s toothbrush. Jack lives with nothing. He never owns more than one pair of clothes—the clothes he’s wearing—one pair of shoes—ditto—and the cash in his wallet. The toothbrush is the only thing that he takes with him from place to place, and he’s had to replace that a few times when a fast getaway is required. The toothbrush aspect plays into his weaknesses and strengths, and his brokenness as well, but mostly it’s just eccentric.

Kim Harrison’s character Ivy has killer boots and that amazing hair. She’s cold and dangerous and exciting, which plays off the main character, Rachel Morgan, who never quite knows what to wear, is a bit klutzy, and is generally engaging.  The two characters work together from a writing standpoint as much because of the meshing of their eccentricities as because of their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.  

Besides the whole lady pirate thing, Misty Massey’s Mad Kestrel has her whistling magic. If you don’t know what I mean, read the book.  🙂 

DB Jackson’s Ethan Kaille seems un-eccentric, but he’s paired off against Saphria, who is eccentric in dress, mannerisms, job description (for a woman), and is dangerous in every way. The mild-mannered but un-relenting, un-forgiving Ethan is a hard, cold, flint-like monolith in her path, and when they square off, it’s the eccentricities that make the relationship spark like flint and steel, fire in every confrontation.

Merit, in the Chloe Neill series, is a vamp turned against her will, and though she could have sat and whined, she accepted what she had become and what her strengths were. And she has this sword. And she eats Twinkies. Every time I read a Merit book I want a katana and a package of cream filled sin.

Monk the whole OCD tic thing. ‘Nuff said.

 I’ve tried to figure out Jane Yellowrock’s eccentricities and I honestly can’t pick one. She is so foreign to my own life and personality that everything she is and does is unconventional. She eats meat, I eat salads. She owns dozens of weapons, I have two  guns and the kitchen knives. She has a Harley and I have an SUV.  The only thing we have in common is the Lucchese boots. Seriously. Because I am totally not eccentric. Except for the orchids and skulls I collect. Okay. Maybe I am a bit weird. Just a bit.

So. Brainstorm. Name some tics and eccentricities of your favorite characters from books or TV or film.



18 comments to Tics, Eccentricities, and Realism

  • The main character in my recently released novella had the habit of giving nicknames to everyone, especially the zombies he was trying to kill. It may not be the strangest tic/eccentricity but it was a lot of fun to write.

  • sagablessed

    I don’t know if this qualifies, but my current protagonist hides the fact he is LGBT even from himself. He gets upset when it is brought to his attention.
    He also is easily embarrassed by anything. The fact he is only 17 may have something to do with it. I still have explore his quirks.
    In another WIP, a secondary character makes everything into a poem. He cannot seem to help himself. His familiar (a terrier)also has a penchant for Chinese food…no mushrooms.

  • sagablessed

    Kevin: congrats on the release!! May it bring you fame and fortune.
    Yes, I know, I know. But I can hope for you!

  • All that seem to be coming to mind right now are my own characters, like Ahlia and her unconscious propensity to rub the back of her neck when stressed or torn over a situation. Or Lynaethel stroking his chin when deep in thought. Jon was an alcoholic that is no longer affected by alcohol, so from time to time, in moments of stress, he has the habit of reaching for a bottle before realizing it won’t do anything for him. His sidekick, Peregrine, will rub her forehead with her fingers when trying to think of something she’s forgotten. Her brain is swiss cheese because of the drugs someone tried to wipe her memory with.

    Isn’t Jane a tea drinker? Thought I remembered something like that. I could be mixing her up with another character.

  • Once Upon a Time has Emma and Snow, who don’t realize they’re mother and daughter, both loving hot chocolate with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

    In D.D. Barant’s Blooodhound Files, Jayce Valchek has a habit of voicing what she’s thinking and then having “crap, did I say that aloud? Yep. Crap.” moments. And being stuck in an alternate universe, she’s adopted a habit of hunting down music in that universe that is the same in ours.

    I love how these eccentricities can be funny and/or endearing. And sometimes cause problems! I could think of some of my own personal habits that could easily add to a story, since they certainly affect my own life. 🙂

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Nobody seems to have got to it yet, so I’ll do the crew of the Firefly! (a study in contrasting characteristics)
    Jayne: names his favorite guns
    Kayle: the sunny one who likes pretty things but is a ridiculously skilled mechanic
    Wash: wears Hawaiian shirts and has a collection of plastic dinosaurs
    Zoe: says “Sir” to her captain, but is married to a goof-ball
    Inara: very refined and respectable, but really never phased by their rough, criminal lifestyle
    Mal: has made walking the line between disrespect and loyalty into an art form

  • My first thought? Miss Marple and her knitting. That one really interests me because what could have been the stereotypical defining characteristic of a sweet little old lady actually becomes the eccentric sideline.

    Another favorite of mine is Eve Dallas, the tough-as-nails police officer in J.D. Robb’s In Death series, who has a secret candy stash that keeps getting pilfered and an ongoing battle with vending machines that never work for her.

  • mudepoz

    Dexter the psychopath, who has a slides with a drop of blood from his kills.
    Anita Blake and her Penguins
    Charley Davidson and her coffee. And mugs.

    My character has no eccentricities. Egotistical basset hounds have none.

    Since when are orchids and skulls weird. *Glances at collections. Covers them so Faith can’t see.*

  • Ken

    Harry Dresden: Hard (really hard) on books, uses verbal shortcuts instead of obscure arcane phrases in his magic (Flickum Bicus to produce a small flame = awesome if you are old enough to remember the advertisements.)

    One of my characters is a 5’4″ mercenary who is *very* sensitive about his height.

    I think orchids and skulls are a prefect match. The white of the bone contrasts nicely with the colors of the orchid…um…or so I’ve heard.

  • Hmmph, bunch of closet collectors. My *business logo* is a skull-and-crossbones!

    My MC doesn’t really have any special eccentricities, but he has some habitual mannerisms, and he can be quite a pedant. Likes strong bitter tea, wears the same (black) clothes til they’re falling apart, gets up at the butt-crack of dawn. Crap, he’s copying me again!

  • Reziac: I laughed when I saw your first two sentences and then looked up to my flag hanging on the shelf of my desk with a skull and crossbones that says, “Dead men tell no tales” and then the skeletal hand holding the skull that I rigged with a flicker bulb to make it look like a candle glow. 😉

  • Chris Branch

    Sorry, nothing to contribute, but a side note to David: you should have just named her Sue. 😉

  • Faith – you do know what Raymond Chandler said about orchids right? Too much like dead men’s fingers.

    But I love this post, b’c it made me realize that my current MC lacks a tic or eccentricity. She’s been raised to be monotone, a good little conformity. She’s never owned anything that was uniquely hers – clothes, toys, horses, weapons, nothing. I think I need a scene where she chooses to buy or obtain something that is hers and just hers. Even if it’s just picking up a unique pebble and carrying it around in her pocket secretly, for her it would be an act of great rebellion

  • Good stuff, Y’all! And Hepseba wins extra points for the Firefly one!

  • Hepseba, speaking of Firefly, they did a whole scene based on Kaylee noticing Mal and Zoe’s habit of cutting apples into bite-sized pieces to eat them, instead of just chomping down. One of my favorite scenes!

  • Razziecat

    SiSi’s mention of Miss Marple reminds me of Agatha Christie’s other iconic detective, Hercule Poirot, and his obsession with his luxuriant moustache. He also had a thing about symmetry and neatness; I remember a scene in one of the books in which he lamented the fact that his bread was cut unevenly 😉

    In my own work, one of my space opera characters is still shy about nudity, despite twenty years in the military; he was raised in a province famous for its people’s modesty. Also, whenever he sleeps in a new place, he’s always a bit startled by his strange surroundings the first time he wakes up there; this is especially weird for him because he has an eidetic memory.

  • Vyton

    One of my characters is a harmless, eccentric loner, who is in the salvage business. He spends his spare time driving the back roads looking for treasures in ditches. He is paranoid about helicopters. Enjoyed this post. I think I have some work to do on the MC. Thank you.

  • Thanks sagablessed!
    One character I can’t believe no one (including me) mentioned was Sherlock Holmes. He’s got so many great eccentricities but somehow completely slipped my mind.