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Thread: Character development - peculiarities?

  1. #1
    Eowyn Eomer

    Character development - peculiarities?

    I'm using a chart I found online for character development. One of the things it asks me to do is decide what my character's peculiarities are. I'm having a hard time thinking of what kinds of things would fall into this category. Does anyone know or can provide a link to a souce that lists many possible human peculiarities?

  2. #2

    Re: Character development - peculiarities?

    This link is from another thread on the board where people discussed character depth.

    A couple of posts down, I listed some character traits I found in another chart. They may not be "peculiarities" but it could help you get started.

    Also, your character may not need these peculiarities at all. When you start writing, they might develop all on their own.

  3. #3
    Eowyn Eomer

    Re: Character development - peculiarities?

    Are those really peculiarities? They look more like personality traits. Or is there not a difference between personality traits and peculiarities? My dictionary says that a peculiarity is a distinguishing characteristic such as an oddity or quirk. I've heard the phrase used, "Well he's got his quirks," and know it to be in reference to things that make that person unique from everyone else. But I'm having a hard time thinking what kinds of quirks that people have are.

    Perhaps things like...
    Being a pack-rat
    The way a person dresses

    Would a peculiarity be something that displays the character's flaws? For example, the character I'm currently doing this chart for is overly fearful and overly protective of those he loves. So then a peculiarity might be how those traits manifest themselves and become obvious to others?

  4. #4

    Re: Character development - peculiarities?

    What an interesting concept.

    I googled "people peculiarities" and got quite a list:
    <a href=" peculiarities" target="_new">peculiarities</a>

    I see peculiarities as falling under characteristics, as in, "he sure is a peculiar (or eccentric, melancholy, happy, interesting, weird, strange) character.

    A character (where char is a human being, for chars can be weather, objects, animals) has attributes, personality traits.

    Peculiar to my mind specifically means abnormal, unusual, different from the norm. Whatever normal is, that is, within the context of the story.

    There are many ideas in that link I gave you. I find some Spanish personality peculiar, which for them are the order of the day.

    I like to observe people. Crowded public places offer a plethora of strange characteristics, because people feel that in a crowd no one notices them picking their nose, staring at a womans's butt for an hour straight, frowning to the air in front of them, screaming personal info like phone and credit card numbers into cell phones, slips snowing down south, unmatched socks (I may be guilty), wild gestures.

    Which reminds me. A while back I was practicing my Spanish on a hike. I was mouthing the words in a pretend conversation, and was gesturing to the imaginary boy I was talking to. A guy came up from behind and said, "Hi..." with raised eyebrows. My "Practicing Spanish" comment delivered me from peculiar status, I fear.

    These are physical, external peculiarities. As authors and gods of our stories, we see the peculiarities inside their heads and hearts. Now it gets juicy.

    Good luck.

  5. #5


    I met someone with a peculiarity today - she has be be holding something plastic at all times. She carries around those plastic grocery bags and just plays with them while she's sitting in class or watching TV. She told me she sleeps with something plastic in her hands. She doesn't know if it's a smell or a texture or what. I think this is what you are talking about - this isn't what I'd call a characteristic, but it is certainly an oddity.

  6. #6

    Re: peculiarities

    Stuff like this?

    A football player who collects little china ballerinas.

    Incessantly clicks a retractable pen.

    Always sits facing/away from door/street.

    Always stirs drink counter-clockwise.

    Some of those aren't all that eccentric, but could be a quirk that gets on the nerves of another character if that's something that would benefit the story:

    I was always so irritated by his habit of clicking his pen whenever we went for coffee that I never noticed his jaundiced pallor until it was too late.

  7. #7

    Character development - peculiarities?


    Are you having much luck developing your characters this way, that is, by creating a chart and listing various traits?

    If not, may I suggest allowing the character to come alive on the page as you write?

    As you write a scene, things may come to mind...suddenly, you notice the character takes his glasses off every time he says something or perhaps he twists his wedding ring around and around on his finger when he's nervous.

    Some folks have a lot better luck allowing traits, peculiarities or otherwise, develop as they write rather than making a chart of them in advance.

    Food for thought.


  8. #8

    Character development - peculiarities?

    I have to agree with Sunsinger--it might be best to let the character come alive on his or her own. But that's just me and what I do.

    A peculiarity, or idiosyncrasy, can also be tied to a certain phrase the character uses, or a distinct manner of speaking.

    Here is a link to the Nonverbal Dictionary of gestures, signs, and body language cues. This may give you more insight into the physical sides.


  9. #9
    Eowyn Eomer

    Re: Character development - peculiarities?

    This character I already feel I know extremely well, but I've spent more time thinking about him than the others. I'm having trouble understanding another key character in my story though and for him I might have to just start writing to figure a bunch of stuff out. Though I think there is some value to pre-thinking through what the characters are like. It may help avoid characters from being too much alike and definitely setting them apart as unique individuals. It's easy to create different life situations for them, but I think it's more of a conscious effort to make sure they don't react the same way but have unique personalities, ways of thinking about things, ways of doing things, and ways of saying things.

    Essentially these two characters I'm trying to understand before writing are very much opposites, but somehow they've formed an amazing friendship. But opposites do tend to attract and it seems there's more conflict between people of like personalities.

    Thanks for all the suggestions.

  10. #10

    Re: Character development - peculiarities?

    I suggest you take your character out for coffee.

    Go to the cafe, with your pen and pad, or laptop. Get your beverage, hopefully caffienated, and enjoy the ambience a bit.

    Your character is coming to meet you. Record his appearance and gestures as he enters, his ordering process, if he waves hi when he sees you.

    Then he comes over and tells you how his day is going, or some problem bugging him or about an award he's just won. Take notes.

    You may not use this material directly in the book, but it will give you a virtual experience of your character.

    If this situation doesn't suit your fancy, consider sending him to the opera, to the market for milk, or on an airplane journey.

    This technique will get you off center, shut up your internal editor, provide a fun aside from the work, and give you a view of your char in his alternate universe.

  11. #11

    Re: Character development - peculiarities?

    I never have liked the idea of character charts, or of giving characters tags or quirks or anything else. Such characters always strike me as cardboard.

    I like characters who are what they are because that's what they are. It doesn't make any more sense to me to give characters such traits and tags than it would to assign these things to people you meet on the street.

    Let the character be a real person who shows or tells you what he's like as the story progresses.

  12. #12

    Re: Character development - peculiarities?

    I agree with James.

    Also, character charts, interviews, etc. often create much more information than you need--does it really matter to the plot or enhance the story to know what your character's favorite color is or what her childhood pet was named?--that you may then feel obliged to use, whether it fits or not. It's the same peril that's posed for fantasy/sf writers by excessive world building.

    - Victoria

  13. #13
    pina la nina

    the goal here

    Isn't the goal with these sorts of deep dives into character's psyches just to make them real to you, as a writer?

    It seems to me that filling in all the blanks about a person, for some of us, may be quite unreasonable - I compare my characters to really good friends or my spouse or child - I know them well enough to write about them, I think, without knowing every detail inside and out. Part of the joy in knowing someone is the mystery, the continued getting to know them, though you've been married 10+ years or been friends since grade school or given birth to them. That translates into my characters, even when writing from their POV.

    Because the fact of the matter is, many of us don't know these things of ourselves. What are my own quirks, favorite colors, foods, music? Any of those questions could set me to navel gazing for awhile. Does it make me less deep or less functional as an adult to exist without being able to name my top 3 ice cream flavors?

    My point being, simply, that do whatever you need to make the person feel like someone, as Gala said, you could have coffee with - unless they are the sort of person who would never have coffee with the likes of you.

    But don't drive yourself insane trying to pin down pointless factoids about them that they may not know about themselves.

    And for the love of Pete, please don't foist things upon them. The thought that a novel could be populated with a cast of endlessly pen clicking, hair twirling, nose picking, plastic clutching people is enough to put me off my dinner.

  14. #14


    The thought that a novel could be populated with a cast of endlessly pen clicking, hair twirling, nose picking, plastic clutching people is enough to put me off my dinner.
    Unless, say, it was set in an asylum...


    For myself, I have always found that my characters' "personalities" grow directly out of their actions within the story. If I tried to piece together whole people from bits an pieces, and then place them in the story, my stories would lose much of their effect. In many ways a person is defined by his situation, so I start with my plot and my theme and my over-all structure, and have always found my characters grow organically without a whole lot of calculation and endless 'character sketches.'

    I also think giving characters cheap 'traits' is only an counterfeit of real originality. If the only thing that separates your character from the hundreds of others that have played similar roles is his propensity to clutch plastic and click pens and pick his nose, you have decieved yourself about his uniqueness.

  15. #15

    Re: Re:

    IMHO, if you try too hard to make your character "peculiar" or "unique" or something, it will come out staged and forced.

    That said, I think peculiar (or weird) characters are fun to read, if done well. I try not to think of my characters as weird or peculiar, but rather as a unique individual. They personalities, cultures, background, education, etc. all contribute to that character and I simply let those characters speak for themselves. Sometimes a little detail goes a long way -- how a character likes to twirl a strand of hair when she's nervous, etc. But don't do it intrusively and beat the readers in the head with it. Subtlety works better, and after a while, the readers will subconsciously realize these traits.

    The bottomline is, let your characters come alive.

  16. #16

    Re: Re:

    In my first novel, the killer had a self-esteem issue that motivated him to obsess over a woman, and kill a man who got in his way of having her.

    I wrote a backstory scene about him being ridiculed in gym class as a kid, that I never used or referred to. I had a list of his motivators, developed over time.

    My knowing about his enabled me to write him authentically, and my readers said he was their favorite character. Not only critiquers, but members of an audience at a book signing event said, "I love that bad guy!"

    I don't do this with every character, but they do sometimes whisper their dirty little secrets to me in the night....

    I also automatically place my chars into one of the four personality quadrants. Yeah, I've possibly had too much therapy <img border=0 src="" />

  17. #17
    Writing Again

    Re: Re:

    I go backto one of my essential rules of writing.

    If it does not impact the story, effect it in some direct way, then traits, peculiarities, whatever should be left out. In truth giving a character a "peculiar" trait can have a deleterious effet on a story.

    Readers want to identify with the character you are writing about. If the reader finds tapping a glass with a ring annoying, then they will reject the character and not get into them. Better avoid off putting traits unless you want the reader to dislike the character.

    People are want to say the character should be well rounded. What they tend not to mention is that the story should be just as well rounded as the character and in equal proportions. The characters secondary traits should contribute to them getting into or out of trouble and should either impede or facilitate the story. Everything should be a whole not a bunch of parts strung together.

  18. #18

    Traits v. Peculiarities

    Hm. I guess I see it both ways. There's definitely benefit to *knowing* your characters well, so you know how they will respond when you put them in situations (within your story). So you may need to know more about them than the reader ever finds out, or you may find that occasional tidbits come out to inform the reader. I like the observation/interview method suggested above, I've seen some good character sheets as well, and some good exercises for getting to know your characters. And personal quirks/traits/peculiarities (one person's trait is another person's quirk?) can help "tag" characters for the reader, and make them more well rounded. And, in a lot of cases, we don't want to read about "normal" people, we want to read about people who are extraordinary in some way, and these traits can provide some of that extraordinariness.

    On the flip side, if this is overdone, it can be very obvious and sound silly. Characters created by putting together bits and pieces read like they were created with one of those books for children where you make silly animals by combining the feet from the monkey with the legs from the giraffe and the head from the lion.

    Does that make sense?

  19. #19
    Jules Hall

    Re: Traits v. Peculiarities

    If it does not impact the story, effect it in some direct way, then traits, peculiarities, whatever should be left out.
    I don't agree, sorry. Some of my favourite novels of recent years are David Weber's Honor Harrington books. In these, the main character has a habit of her nose in stressful situations (i.e., a lot of the time). It has no effect on the story, but even two years after I last read one of them its a detail that stands out in my memory. It makes her seem real.

  20. #20
    Euan Harvey

    Re: Traits v. Peculiarities

    In these, the main character has a habit of her nose in stressful situations (i.e., a lot of the time).
    A habit of ___________ her nose.



    I agree though, Honor Harrington is a great character -- as are several of the others in that series.

  21. #21

    Re: Traits v. Peculiarities

    But clearly she's not a great character just because she ____ her nose.

  22. #22

    Re: Traits v. Peculiarities

    Somehow this reminds me of the "moaned Dad" thread. Can we get creative and combine them?

    "_______," moaned Dad, ______ing his nose.

  23. #23

    Re: Traits v. Peculiarities

    "Quack," moaned Dad, cracking his nose.

  24. #24
    Brony level >9000 Nivarion's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    well i don't know if anyone else has said this, but i hope its helpful.

    peculiarity should be the things that your character does that your others don't.

    e.g. i have one character that bounces his leg when he is sitting, very fast if he is annoyed, i also have a character that when he is thinking, fingers his scars, and yet another that won't look you in the eye.

    so think about what they do that would strike you as odd, something that indicates what they are feeling in an abnormal way.
    Hey, I'm back after, like, months! Almost a year even!

    If there are horrible typos, see the following.

    Sent from my IPhone. ... Stupid autocorrect.

  25. #25
    Sheriff Bullwinkle the Poet says: RJK's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Lewiston, NY
    My MC carries a Pratt & Lambert paint chart with him. He compares the brown color to the color of his coffee when he "Just the right amount of creamer" in it. If he orders coffee to go, he gives the chart to the counter girl and insists she match the color to his coffee.

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