To me, the sign of good women’s fiction is when I finish the book and wish I knew the characters — quirks and all.
When I write I keep that in mind.
I think the best way to write a quirky character is to think of her as being transparent to the reader. We know everything about a character the author chooses for us to know — we write whatever we want our reader to know. And you know what? That is probably more than most of us know about our real life friends and neighbors, and maybe even more than we’re willing to admit about ourselves. These can be external and internal quirks — endearing and annoying quirks. Quirkiness just skirts the edge of weirdness, allows us to see inside a character — even if the other characters cannot. Maybe it’s a twitch, a habit, an obsession. It could be a secret or a wish. By adding a bit of quirkiness to the character the reader gets to see the unique way your character handles a real life situation — because that’s what women’s fiction tackles – real life in all in it’s exceptional and ordinary ways. Your women’s fiction must be unique to make it in todays market — quirks will make your character unique. Quirks will make your characters real and relatable.
In the book I’m reading now, Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb, the main character hides every time she sees her handsome neighbor. At first I found I wondered if she was just being silly or over-reacting, but as I got to know her better I realized that I was privy to her personal ritual, what made her tick. She was a self-conscious woman — which to me is cliché. But she hides behind bushes! That’s quirky. She’s unsure of herself. That’s real. She’s scared of what his reaction might be to her. That’s relatable.
In Meg Waite Clayton’s The Wednesday Sisters, one of the characters wears white gloves all the time – this is obvious to all the characters and her secret is hidden from them as well as the reader. The gloves? That’s quirky. The other characters wonder about the gloves but don’t bother their friend about it. That’s real. There’s a secret in this woman’s past. That’s relatable. (This book is about women who get together to write, which is one of the reasons I loved it, I’m sure. I still want to hang out with these characters.)
For me, quirkiness is always in progress in my writing. In a WIP my main character loves to dust because it gives her a reason to touch her favorite possessions and not feel like she is obsessed with them — even though she is. These items represent a promise she made to herself about the life she wants. In my novel that’s in the hands of my agent, my main character loves to bake because it distracts her — and feeds her need to nurture. And when she feeds her friends, she can also distract them. And it works for her.
For the record — I don’t dust or bake. Makes it all the more fun to write women who do!
Do quirky characters appeal to you? Tell me some of your favorites — ones you’ve read and ones you’ve written!