Quirks, coincidence, and keeping them straight

September 28, 2010 at 10:27 am (character, writing)

Just when I think I understand my characters, they tend to throw a surprise my way. Sometimes, it’s just Dreis being obnoxious; a few times, I’ve discovered something about Evram by trying to understand the way he interacts with my story. One of the best ways to get to know your characters is to figure out whether their interactions are quirks or coincidences brought about by the setting.

Abstract, isn’t it? Here’s an example from a character I know all too well:

I was late for class this morning. You’d think I would have figured out by now that it takes more than five minutes to find a parking spot on campus, but because I hadn’t, I was running to class. I realized midstride that something was wrong.

My shoes didn’t match.

Now I normally wouldn’t think much of this. I am, after all, absent-minded enough that I honestly can’t believe I haven’t done this before.

But a week ago today, I was running around campus wearing only one glove.

I can rationalize away both incidents. I wore mismatched shoes because I snatched the black one out from under a pile of books and knitting tools, mistaking it for the white shoe’s partner. And I only wore one glove because I only had one–the second wasn’t finished.

And yet, it’s hard to ignore my apparent tendency toward the asymmetric.

Next time you see me wearing mismatched shoes or one glove, I bet you’ll wonder if it’s a quirk or a coincidence.

Now take that question and start asking your characters. See what they want you to learn about them.

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