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35 Weird Traits Your Characters May Have

May 2, 2011
character traits

Porcupine hair, piercing eyes--a memorable character

Read ‘weird’ as ‘unique’–the type of trait that grabs a reader’s attention and shakes it like a dog with a pillow. I’m constantly looking for these so the characters in my novels are memorable and the reader is excited to follow their journeys.

Here’s a list I’ve culled from people I know, books I’ve read, internet blog posts. Wherever I was, if an odd mannerism caught my attention, I jotted it into my writer’s notebook. Now that it’s long enough, I’m ready to share. If I get organized and finish my WIP this summer, you’ll recognize some of these in my characters:

  • eats M&Ms or Skittles by color
  • can’t use a pen without a top
  • can’t clean his/her house unless it’s night
  • types with one finger
  • is a debater
  • is a man who manicures his nails
  • drops last three words of a sentence to a grumble
  • has an accent
  • whistles when s/he says an s
  • whistles out of tune or the same three lines over and over
  • wears wingtips
  • obsessed with Princess Di (or some other celebrity)
  • turns every statement into a question by raising his/her voice at the end of the sentence
  • very rosy cheeks–almost rosacea
  • has to have even numbers for stuff–like a grade or the volume on his/her iPod
  • can’t stand to put wood in his/her mouth–like chopsticks, popsicles, etc.
  • calls males ‘son’, i.e. ‘Good job, son!’
  • larger-than-normal personal space bubble
  • can’t sleep in a messy room
  • nibbles at his/her fingers when excited
  • can’t eat vanilla cake with chocolate icing
  • eats toothpaste
  • walks on his/her toes
  • always has to have the office/room door closed
  • breaks a sandwich up into little pieces before eating it
  • loves good grammar
  • can’t write with a blue pen
  • has a postcard collection
  • can’t go anywhere without a bottle of water
  • must eat lunch at exactly 11:30 (or noon, or whatever hour works for your novel). If s/he is even a minute late, they have to wait an hour
  • smells the pages of a book, or people, or food before eating
  • sees everyone as a color–she’s pink
  • has a phobia to something weird–like cracks on the sidewalk
  • his/her leg shakes every time they sit
  • rolls eyes up and to the right as they pontificate (or lecture, or just talk)

Enough? It makes me want to be more tolerant.

If you like this collection, I have a lot more descriptors on everything from how to show someone is lying to description of clothing to those pesky illnesses people have that are their own subplot (think spider bites).


Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and author of two technology training books for middle school. She wrote Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office, WordDreams, or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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9 Comments
  1. May 2, 2011 12:12 am

    Hi Jacqui. Love the list. Thanks for the links to the others, too.

  2. May 2, 2011 8:50 am

    I looked in vain to find ‘walks down the street singing’ but as we’ve never met it obviously wasn’t in there. You can add it if you want. But please don’t blame it on my being drunk. Welsh people stop singing when they’re drunk.

  3. Jett permalink
    May 2, 2011 2:38 pm

    I don’t think good characters have to be “weird,” but a little messed up. Antiheroes are the best. Inner-conflict and redemption is always a safe way to go.

  4. May 2, 2011 5:44 pm

    Hey Marvin, it’s the clerk in me that I have to make lists. I read through this when my character isn’t quirky enough. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with the May Blogathon!

  5. May 2, 2011 5:45 pm

    Hehe, walking and singing should certainly be on the list. What was I thinking? Consider it added.

  6. May 2, 2011 5:47 pm

    There’s probably a nicer way to say, ‘weird’, maybe interesting, fascinating–better? All of my friends have something that makes them unusual and is what draws me to them. Normal is boring. .You’re right about ‘inner conflict’–safe and necessary.

  7. May 2, 2011 11:11 pm

    Great list Jacqui… though what does it see when you not just recognise some of these traits but embody them.

    I have an almost seven year old son and our house is fillied with songs – usually the same two to three lines of a song, over and over again. And if he doesn’t know the words, he’ll hum the tune – over and over again.

    I ‘eat around my plate’ – that is, I eat of one particular type of vegie first and move around and in summer I order my tea with a long glass of ice to make my own version of iced tea (I gave this particular quirk to my very first character in NaNo) And yes – as a teenager I refused to write in blue ink… it had to be black (or any other colour but blue)

    Looking around the space you live and inhabit, intimately and more generally, turns up all kinds of odd nuances that are just waiting to be committed to the page. Or for your character to just be ‘committed’.

    Thanks for these.

  8. May 3, 2011 8:06 am

    Those are great ones, Jodi. I’m going to add them to my list. I’ve seen people who eat around their plate or eat one food at a time–forgot about them. A great addition to any antagonist.

  9. May 7, 2011 9:50 am

    Jodi–I’m with you. Kinda wondering if Jacqui’s been following me around, taking some notes, snickering along the way….🙂

    Seriously, Jacqui–What you’ve triggered in us is a critical look at our existing characters, taking inventory of what makes them memorable (and, in some cases, a little too memorable if they’re not supposed to be a dominant character).

    I give some of these traits to cameos who need to break the tension in the scene– a receptionist who cracks her gum incessantly, or a nervous friend who fiddles with an old lighter. The trick is to keep their weirdness in check, as too much might upstage the main characters and distract the reader from the bigger story.

    Thanks for these!

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