Tuesday, January 12, 2010


That's right! Back your your viewing pleasure is Blastin' through the Block! The bi-weekly event where I tell you how I blast through my writer's block! This week's edition is finding your character's idiosyncrasies. 

Idiosyncrasies (according to dictionary.com) can be defined as:

a characteristic, habit, mannerism, or the like, that is peculiar to an individual.
the physical constitution peculiar to an individual.
a peculiarity of the physical or the mental constitution, esp. susceptibility toward drugs, food, etc. 

I happen to love these little things that make each one of us unique and individual. I think part of what makes characters come alive are those little things that seem like they don't matter. The face that your MC has a thing for mac n'cheese, a supporting character hates the color purple, or your MC's love interest's habit of wearing two pairs of socks because he's insecure about his foot odor, may seem like things that don't matter at all when first written. In the end those little things make them more that flat characters made of words. They pop out into fully fledged and believable people, readers can fall in love with. 

So, what does this have to do with writer's block? For me, everything. When I first start writing a book the characters seem flat and unreal. They are just words on paper and until I can flesh them out, it can be hard to stay motivated. So, I start making up quirks about them, little things that show who they are without telling. 

My favorite is of my MC, Ashleigh. She's a girl who puts very little value in the color pink, to say it repulses her and makes he want to puke would not be an exaggeration. Girlyness is a trait she'd rather trade her soul that to have. That said, she has an insane box of shoes in every style, size, color and variety. 

I really don't know how or when the idea she had a thing for shoes (that went so far against her personality) popped into my brain but in the end, it has a role in the story. It makes her who she is. I do know why I needed it. I was having a hard time writing a girl who dislikes almost everything about being a girl and wasn't athletic to boot. Giving her a girlish out was like breathing life into her. Sometimes that's exactly what we need...to breathe more life into our characters and let them step out of our words and into the hearts of our readers. 

Do you have a favorite idiosyncrasy of one of your characters? How do you breathe life into your characters?


Aubrie said...

This is a great post! I need to do more of that!

I make my characters come to life with specific memories of past events, and then how those memories affect their decisions in the present.

Sarah Forgrave said...

I like how you pointed out that initially your characters are flat, because I think that's common in my first drafts too. When I go back to edit, I add more layers to the characters that give them those idiosyncrasies.

Diana Paz said...

Nice post! I like when I have a sarcastic character-- so fun to write!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great post, Bethany. One of my favorite character idiosyncrasies (which you'll get to know up-close and personal, critique buddy) is a boy who just HAS to interrupt. :-)

Robyn Campbell said...

Awesome post. Anna and Claire my two MC's from my getting ready to be queried MG novel, SEVENTY TWO HOURS, whew that was a mouthful, have their own idios. I shortened it for this comment. :0) This is such a great way to find your character.

Such a kewl post. I'll be back Bethany. Love your blog.

Cindy said...

That's a great tip! One of my favorite characters is a secondary character from my last manuscript (though I am writing her own story now). She's totally inconsistent, loves to jog but then eats white powdered donuts and drinks smoothies all the time. She gives my main character a hard time with her straightforward attitude and completely upbeat personality.

Bethany Mattingly said...

Aubrie, I agree with you writing a past event can give loads of characterization to a character. I wish I had thought of that point to add in. Great comment!

Sarah, I just finished doing some of that with a revision of Broken. It made me feel like a puppeteer adding in hints for the readers about who these people I'm writing about are.

Diana, I agree, sarcastic characters are loads of fun to invent. :)

Shannon, I can't wait to read about him!

Robyn, Aww, thanks! I love your blog too! Idios is a great shortcut I tried to come up with one when I was writing this but I couldn't find one I liked :)

Cindy, sounds like you have a great character! I love that she jogs and then eats donuts :)

Amy Tate said...

One of my favorite past times is people watching at the mall. Some of my best character sketches have been made on that bench!