Category: My books (Page 1 of 7)

Where is This?

In my writing, especially the historicals, setting is important. I spend many hours drawing maps of my fictional towns, showing the placement of a school, a church, a saloon, and the layout of the streets. I find this exercise grounds me in the place and gives me a stage where the characters can act out their stories.  Even Lottie, of The Man for Her, who lives on a farm is anchored in place by the town of Prospect.

The setting of my work in progress is not cooperating. This is a contemporary story with a mature hero/heroine love affair. They are both farmers, so the nearby town is less relevant to the story, but it is relevant to me, the author. Until I can nail down the setting to my satisfaction, I have trouble getting the characters to play their roles. Frequently, I have to backtrack to set them in physical spaces, and figure out how they got there from where they were in the previous scene. The result can be disjointed and awkward. I need to find “home” for these characters.

One of the constraints for my setting is the action of the story. My heroine has to live in an area with a big enough population to support a farm-gate market. However, the characters need to interact on a village scale.  That is, lots of local gossip, everyone knowing everyone else’s business, the Women’s Institute, church bazaars, stockyard . . . In truth, my setting problems are the same problems that beset market farmers in real life. Live close enough to a city to sell your produce directly and the price of land is beyond your reach. Live in a more remote area and there aren’t enough local customers to make your business thrive. On-line marketing works for book sales and handcrafts, but you can’t sell fresh carrots through the mail.

I always make my settings fictional but usually based on an actual place. I have a regional place in mind, but, for the purposes of the novel, I need to narrow the scope to a single, farming community with a small town at its heart. And, I need a place name. What about Valleyfield? Valleyview? Both of those names show up in my Canadian atlas. Do they resonate? Many real towns use the founder’s name, like Campbellton, or Chesterville, but those names don’t contribute to the story unless the story concerns Campbells or Chesters. I need something more evocative. Meadows? Leeside? Cedar Creek?  Plenty? Sweetland?

What do you think, dear readers? I really need to anchor this story on the land. Drop your suggestions into the comments section. If I use one of yours I’ll credit you on the title page of the book.

Visits: 91

If You Could Do It Over

In its simplest terms, the premise of Matt Haig’s  The Midnight Library is the do-over. In the moment between death and eternity, our protagonist, and some others, have a chance to relive their lives, making different choices. They can undo their mistakes, to atone for harm they caused, see the world as a different person, be a different person. 

It’s an intriguing idea but I’m not inclined to spend much time applying it to my own life. Robert Frost wrote of “the road less travelled by” and the notion has teased the human imagination for years. But, in real life, we don’t get to back up and make another choice. In real life, we move forward, mistakes and all. Regret is a natural emotion, but wallowing in  past sorrows is a recipe for discontent in the present and despair for the future. 

But, while I reject the idea as a real person, as an author it fires my imagination. Every time I put pen to paper, (or fingers to keyboard) in my story, I’m making a choice for the characters–and for everything else, for that matter. 

If I set my story in a small town, I’ve given up the possibility of writing glitz and glamour.  If I set it on a ranch, I’d better be prepared to write about horses and cows and maybe sheep. If the heroine comes from a large family, the hero will have to win their approval. If she is an only child, or an orphan, she’ll be carrying that baggage and the love story will have to reflect that background.

But the real choices for an author come in the actions of my character. If she accepts a job in a foreign country, she will have a different story than if she takes one in the next town. When I decide which action she takes, I’m locking her into that life, even if it is fictional. There is no do-over for the book unless I toss what I’ve written and take a different course.

Authors like to play “what if.” For example, what if Scarlett O’Hara had loved Rhett Butler more than Tara? If she had had a chance for a do-over would she have acted differently? What would that have done to the story? Would you read it? 

In my own book, Her One True Love, the heroine has a choice between two men. That choice will determine the rest of her life. Does she choose to marry the Mountie?  She’ll have a life of adventure. She’ll have to follow him to postings all over the country. She’ll live with the knowledge that he is often in danger. She may become a bit of a sleuth herself helping him with his unsolved cases. Is that the life she wants?

Or, she can marry the preacher. She’ll have a settled life, near her sister. She’ll be the cynosure of the gossips for the rest of her life. She’ll play a major role in her husband’s ministry. She’ll be expected to teach Sunday School, and pour tea, and keep an immaculate house. Is that the life she wants?

As the main character of The Midnight Library discovers, no life is perfect.

But as readers or authors, we get to try out as many as our imaginations can conceive.

What about you, dear reader? Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you’d taken a different road?

Visits: 86

Before and After

 

The beauty industry is rife with before and after pictures. Their aim is to show potential customers the benefit of some product or treatment, hence the “after” picture is far more appealing than the “before” picture.

Lately, I’ve noticed conversations containing the before/after phrase,  not in regards to a beauty treatment, but in relation to COVID-19. The pandemic created a great slash through the normal progression of our lives. We have “before,” when families and friends gathered for celebration and sorrow. When the only consideration in creating a guest list was the size of the table. Babies were born and grandparents, aunts and uncles flocked to the nursery to greet the new arrival. In times of loss, the bereaved drew strength from the mourners who assembled to comfort them. We didn’t think twice about being present in a group.

COVID changed all that. Some grandparents didn’t cuddle a newborn until the babe had become a toddler. Families grieved in isolation, unable to hold the hand of a loved one as they passed from this life. Our new guest lists may exclude the unvaccinated. Remember when banks had signs outside requiring customers to remove sunglasses and caps before entering the building? Now we see a masked man in a bank and shrug.

Most pandemic related restrictions have been removed now, but our behaviour has not returned to the “before” times. I doubt it ever will. 

From a personal and social point of view the effects of the pandemic are significant, leaving us more cautious, suspicious of our fellowmen. We must navigate a new “normal” and the journey  is uncomfortable and awkward.

From a writer’s point of view, the experience of the pandemic gives us a whole range of new responses for character-building. If a good story starts at a turning point, we have loads of examples from our daily lives to show what happens when a character hits a crossroads. Does she defy the risks and go out and party with strangers? Does she withdraw into her cocoon and miss out on the rest of life? Does she feel her way back into the life she had before, or does she close the door on those times and start over?

In my wip, the heroine is a widow. She behaves like a new widow, even though she lost her husband five years before the story began. That is because she has decided to withdraw — from friends and neighbours, from community, from organizations — from everything that gave her life meaning before her sudden change in circumstances.

Since the pandemic, I can look around me and see that response in real life. I know people who have stopped coming to church, have stopped going to the grocery story, have given up on movies or concerts, have cut themselves off from personal contact with anyone outside their household. I can use my observation of these people to give more depth to my protagonist

In my story the heroine is jolted out of her half-life by events — it would be a boring story if she wasn’t — and I can witness the same thing around me as people venture into society once more.  Some are cautious, wearing masks in every indoor setting. Some are being social, but only with a few close friends. Some are racing full-throttle into crowds of strangers.  More grist for the story-teller’s mill.

Regardless of how people respond to the post-COVID world (actually, the virus is still around, it’s just the restrictions that have changed) no one has been untouched by it. We all have this wide chasm, an empty place in our lives, from when the pandemic was at it’s worst. We date our memories as pre-pandemic or after. It’s as though we have had two lives.

One ended in March of 2020. 

As writers, this is familiar ground. Our stories are about change.  Page one is “before,” and the end is “after.” We can give our characters successes and defeats. We can make them victims of circumstances, or we can make them masters of their own lives. In fiction, we can make it up as we go along. That’s the joy of writing, The question is, how will we manage in real life?

In March of 2023 we begin the second part of our own story.

Visits: 73

Name that Character

I’ve been wrestling with my wip lately and I think I’m losing. I started the story with such enthusiasm, I thought the words would just fly onto the page. You’d think by now I would know that never happens. 🙁

Part of my problem is the heroine’s name. I know, it’s just a name, get on and write the story. But names matter. If I don’t feel the name reflects the character’s personality, I can’t relate to her, even though she is my own creation. As I was struggling with my heroine’s name I came across a great article at Writer Unboxed, about the power of names. You can read the whole article here.

I had to chuckle at the writer’s aversion to certain names based on life experiences.  I was tormented in school by a fellow named Guy. I could never use that name for a hero in a book, although he could probably show up as a villain. 

Personal bias aside, I want my heroine to have a name that will resonate with readers. It needs to be unique but no so far out that no one will believe it on a fifty year old widow. I’m writing what I hope is a “seasoned” romance. This is a new genre for me and I’m still finding my way. My historical novels used lovely old-fashioned names like Emma, Louisa and Lottie. I connected with those characters immediately and their names fell upon them naturally. They fit so well with long skirts and sturdy boots, and strong-minded women.

I don’t want my heroine to sound as though she comes from another era. I don’t want her to sound too grandmotherly. I don’t want to attach too youthful a name to an older heroine. Of course, our reactions to names are purely subjective but there are guidelines. Jo Beverley used to advise using hard consonants in a hero’s name, to give the impression of strength. Jack, Devon, and Zeke are examples of strong names. Jo would also consider who the name looked on the page, choosing Karl instead of Carl, because the K had more presence.

The name needs to fit my character. When Raquel Welch died there were a number of news stories about her but the one that made me laugh was the tale of a movie mogul who thought her name too exotic and suggested she change it  – – – to Debbie. As Raquel told the story on late-night TV she pulled a face and said, “Do I look like a Debbie?” The answer was patently “no.” Ms Welch was marketed as a sex symbol, an exotic, someone with jungle – like appeal.Raquel suited that image perfectly.

My character is a middle-aged woman, wallowing in her widowhood, keeping the world at arm’s length. The reader must see her vulnerability beneath the “I’m fine,” mask. She is currently named Carrie. It’s a good name, popular at the time my heroine would have been born, but it sounds juvenile in my ear. Not only that, it is  the name Stephen King used for a very disturbed teenager! Not the association I want.

What about Karla? Or Kerry? Changing the C to K creates a whole other personality. I’ve just done a Google search and neither of those names pulls up a negative or famous connection. 

What do you think, dear reader. Is a fifty-year old market gardener named Kerry believable? Relatable?

Please share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to read them.

 

 

 

Visits: 59

Is It My Story to Tell?

    My to-be-read pile has reached such towering proportions I’ve had to break it into two  edifices. The collection includes books I’ve chosen myself, books I received as gifts at Christmas, and books chosen by my book club. Topics range from the science of climate change to a Gothic fantasy to a YA mystery. That’s the joy of reading books others have chosen. I’m not a science geek so would have passed over the climate change book, yet I find it fascinating , and actually easy to read.

     Gothic and fantasy are not my first choices, but this gift introduced me to a writer of amazing skill and imagination. It opened my eyes to a subject I have long ignored.

     There is a lovely gentle read from an author I love. I’ve opened that one today and consider it my reward for persevering through the tough ones.

     One of my book club choices  provoked controversy upon its release over the question of cultural appropriation. Unless you’ve been living on a desert island with no internet, the topic of cultural appropriation has crossed your consciousness. I’ve heard people get really worked up about the topic but I could not understand what all the fuss was about. Isn’t fiction supposed to show us other cultures, other ways of being, other realities? Can’t a woman write from a male point of view? or a child’s or even a cat’s? It happens all the time.

     The argument that you don’t have to be a murderer to write a mystery seems obvious. I write historical fiction but I am not a pioneer. I’ve never lived without running water or electricity. Yet I feel I have every right to tell those stories. My forebears were pioneers. Their story is part of my history. It is their cultural legacy to me. I research the times and places to be as accurate as possible, but I believe these are my stories to tell.

     Wouldn’t the same research-based approach allow me to tell a story from another culture, another race?

     Now that I’ve read this controversial book, I can appreciate the furore.  Although the protagonist of the book in question is non-white, I never really identified her as such. As I read, I felt as though she was a middle-class, white woman looking through a picture window at a story unfolding before her. The protagonist was in peril but the narrator was safe.

     When I read Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, I had a very different experience. I was terrified for every page of the book. If I read before bed, I’d have nightmares.  Hannah never lived in Nazi-occupied France, but she told an authentic story.

     Authenticity is, I believe, at the heart of the cultural appropriation debate.  For someone who has never been beset by bullies because of the colour of her skin, or her style of dress, to tell the story of someone who lives with that reality every day, is a herculean task. It may be possible, in the hands of a very skilled writer, dedicated to uncovering the nuances and subtleties of a different culture and layering them onto her characters. Such a book would be very hard to write. In the case of my book club choice, that author missed the mark.

     The variety in my “to-be-read” pile, is a gift. It demonstrates the wonder of books, how they stretch our minds, challenge our prejudices, and bring joy and comfort. Even when they fall short, they can teach valuable lessons.  The old adage of “write what you know,” I now understand can mean, “is this your story to tell?”

Visits: 142

Christmas Short Story

Christmas seemed a long way off in November, now it is rushing forward at breakneck speed. So, I’ve been working on my annual short story. After numerous re-writes, I thought I had the text ready to publish. My friend had told me about using the reading tool on microsoft so I thought I’d do one last check using that. I found one typo and one repeat word but listening to my words read by a computer voice was . . . an experience.

For some reason, the computer voice did not recognize the name of my heroine — even though a google search showed it does exist. The word the computer used was totally mangled. For those who may have received the story, the heroine’s name is Riona, pronounced ree-owe-na. 🙂

I live in Canada and have always referred to my mother’s mother as grandma. Pronounced grand-ma. The computer must have been programmed in the southern States because it pronounced my grandparent as grand-maw. I had a hard time picturing the woman I’d written about sipping tea from a china cup with “maw” at the end of her name.

Usually, I do a final proof by reading the work aloud, myself, but that can put a strain on the voice and I’ve got a cough, so the computer option seemed like a good idea. It certainly speeded up the process, and reminded me that readers will come from different regions and different backgrounds. 

I’ve had a trying day arguing with various templates on the computer, but my story is now written, edited, and published in my newsletter. If you want to read it, please join my newsletter   here.  

If you are frantically working on Christmas projects, take time to savour the moment. You’ve still got seventeen days. Put some carols on your sound system, bite into a piece of shortbread, and remember the reason for Christmas.

Visits: 90

5 Reasons Your Book Should Sing

Over the summer I reread  Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester.  I have all her romances on my keeper shelf, but I’d forgotten this one, so it was like reading it for the first time. What a treat! When I finished it,  I picked up New Girl in Little Cove by Damhnait Monaghan. This book is set in modern day Newfoundland. I felt as though I’d switched the soundtrack from Mozart to Great Big Sea.

That got me to thinking about the music I might associate with my own books. For the Prospect Series, Gord Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy was an obvious choice. It combines the excitement of opening up a new land with the hardships that come with the adventure. The fact the song has three parts plays well into my storylines as well.

I’m currently working on a short read with an older couple. I don’t have a particular song in mind, but I’m thinking of a community dance. I went to many of those in my younger years. The music ranged from waltzes to square dances to The Twist — the music wasn’t the most important thing–it was who chose you for a partner! And yes, in those days the boys did the choosing and the girls did the hoping. With that image of the town Odd Fellows Hall and the homegrown band in my ears, I can stay in the story world more easily.

I tried out my idea on my author friend in Australia and learned that she had specific songs in mind when writing her books too. “Yes my books do have theme songs… although not always logical. Evil in Emerald was ‘Cat Like Tread’ from Pirates of Penzance, The Postmistress was ‘Peter Hollens Shenandoah’ and The Gold Miner’s Sister was ‘Shallow’ from the latest Star is Born movie. The oddest was probably ‘Arms’ by Christina Perri which was the theme for Gather the Bones.

So, why have a soundtrack for your story?

  1. Tone  The soundtrack playing in your mind will keep the tone of your writing consistent. The English language is rich and varied. Authors have many choices for the “right” word. A song can help make those choices better. Is your book a stately gavotte or a rollicking sea shanty?
  2. Mood  Even though stories move through light and dark times, a book can be strengthened if there is a consistent mood. War stories carry that hint of danger even when we aren’t on the battlefield. Children’s books are full of wonder, regardless of the actual scene. When the reader puts down the book, what do you want her mood to be?
  3. Setting  I am an author who views setting as a “character” in a story.  The mountains in my Prospect books, for example, played a role in the heroines’ reflective scenes. Those towering peaks gave strength and courage to Lottie and Emma and Louisa.
  4. Inspiration  “What happens next?” is a constant question before a writer.  The lyrics or the music of your soundtrack can provide some ideas. Country and western songs are legendary for telling a complete story from joy to heartbreak in only a few lines.  Tammy Wynette’s   Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to
    And something warm to come to/When nights are cold and lonely.–might provide the nudge to take your story down a different path.
  5. Fun  Sitting at a keyboard or holding a pen over a lined notepad, can get lonely and dreary.  We all start this journey because we want to tell a story, we love words, we want to send our ideas into the world. That’s the part that makes us want to write. But the process from idea to finished work can be a slog. The soundtrack playing in our heads can remind us to have fun. Maybe we could all “Whistle While You Work.”

What about you? As a reader do you hear music in a book? As a writer do you consciously choose a soundtrack to accompany your story?

Visits: 149

How Old is Too Old?

Since my last post here, I have been the soloist at a wedding. What a treat! So many happy smiles. So many good wishes. So much love in the room. So many grandchildren in the wedding party.

Yes, I said grandchildren. The bride and groom at this wedding were both over 75.

In the romance world the shorthand for couples over thirty is “seasoned,” although I’m not sure a 30 year old has enough life experience to be considered “seasoned.”  I think the couples in these stories should be at least 50+ to qualify for the term. Then again, the older I get, the cut-off age for elderly gets younger!

I did a little research with authors who write older couples and found that editors used to get squirmy when the characters, especially the romantic heroine, was over 30. So all those, “second chance” books would be hard sells. Come to think of it, a major publisher used to put out a romance line called “second chance.” It folded. Perhaps the protagonists were considered too old by readers?

In my “Prospect” series, all of the heroines have had major life events before the story begins. Lottie, in The Man for Her, has loved and lost, and borne a child out of wedlock. Emma, in Her One and Only, has suffered a broken engagement, a scandal and her father’s death, before coming to Prospect, looking for a second chance. Louisa, in Her One True Love, has spent years caring for a tyrannical father before escaping to Prospect and a chance for a new life.  

So all of my heroines are mature women even though I did not consider that I was writing “seasoned” romance. Still,  I consider the events before the books begin essential to the love stories that follow. Having been “seasoned” by life, these women have a deep appreciation of the gift of true love — perhaps a better appreciation than their more naive counterparts.

Many romance readers yearn for that first passionate love of a girl on the precipice of womanhood. That is a magical moment, and one worth celebrating. No wonder readers devour those stories. But, could love be “sweeter, the second time around?”

Years ago I sang at another wedding and couldn’t hold back the tears as I looked at the  youthful faces of the bride and groom. I knew the years ahead would have some hard days, and I feared their love would be tested.

But as I looked at the love beaming from the grandmother’s face at last month’s wedding, I couldn’t keep the smile off my own face.

Love, at any age, priceless.

What do you think, dear reader? Do you want romances about first love or are you willing to read about the second time around? What is the ideal age for your romantic heroine?

Voice your preference in the comment section below.

Visits: 100

7 Wonders


doing homeworkA schoolgirl, when asked to name the seven wonders of the world, skipped the pyramids and the Taj Mahal and came up with this list.  The seven wonders of the world are:
1. to see
2. to hear
3. to touch
4. to taste
5. to feel
                                                                  6. to laugh
                                                                   7. and to love.

The child may have failed her social studies exam but she nailed it for fiction writers. 

These days much of the author world is is focused on marketing,  Do ads work? Do we know an influencer? Can we find a niche? What’s the ROI on a publicity campaign? Should I buy space on a highway billboard?

With all these business questions hovering about our writing, we sometimes forget about craft. But craft is paramount. Without it, marketing is selling an empty promise.  

So, let’s take a little time today to think about the art of writing as opposed to the science of selling. 

One of the first “rules” a newbie author encounters is “use the five senses” — the first five wonders in our schoolgirl’s list. I notice she left off smell and that’s a really important one. Scent conjures up emotions and memories faster than any of the other senses.

But the senses alone aren’t enough for fiction. 

I’m reading a travel book just now . Here’s a description of town of St. Ives. “From the station we walk a jagged route along beach and cobble streets into town. A maypole dance is taking place just off the foreshore,  . . . Children skip and weave ribbons in a twisting rainbow.”

This passage uses the sense of sight but it misses out on feeling, laughing and loving. While colourful exposition is fine for a travel book, it is too shallow for good fiction.

By contrast, consider “The peaceful sea sighed as it lapped gently onto the white sand. . .” A.M. Stuart, Evil in Emerald. 

In the St. Ives example, we are observers only. We see the children skip, we see the jagged route, but we are indifferent. The second example adds feeling to the senses. Sighed and lapped are evocative words that draw the reader into the mood of the story. We expect romance — or mayhem, but we are no longer mere observers. We are participants.

**

“The Marsh stretched before them, smiling and lush in the September sunshine, yet with a suggestion of eery loneliness, about it. . .  ” Georgette Heyer, The Unknown Ajax. Even though Heyer is known for her light touch and sense of the ridiculous, this example shows her skill at conjuring a dark mood, in the midst of sunshine. 

**

“Intense wind picks up – fifty miles-per-hour gusting to sixty. Tide’s out, fishing boats and dories askew in the bay.” Here the travel book tells me the author is experiencing rough weather. But, although he may feel the wind, the reader doesn’t. We merely observe.

“My house stands at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones.”  Ami McKay, the birthhouse. Ms McKay gives only a minimal description, “churning tides,” but the reader is drawn into the battle to survive on the edge of a heaving ocean. 

**

“A man sitting in a chair in the sun, reading a paper, and three children kicking a ball about. A dog jumping around the children and barking. The scene before her was so ordinary after what she had just  been though that she almost laughed in disbelief. ” Tracy Chevalier, A Single Thread

Can you identify with the terror of the heroine in this example? We see and hear a pleasant scene, yet the last line draws us into the emotion of the moment. This is more than a travelogue.

**

“She watched as [they] strolled across the village green. At first she thought they were going to the bistro for a nightcap, but then they veered to the right. To the light of Clara’s cottage.

And Reine -Marie heard them knock on her door. A soft, soft, insistent knocking. . .” Louise Penny, The Long Way Home.

Note how the word choice entices the reader into the drama. “veered” instead of “turned”, knocking that is “soft” yet “insistent.” There should be a great distance between the reader and the story at this point. We are watchers observing a watcher, and yet we sense the danger/intrigue/menace/heartache of the unfolding events.

**

“A glaring sun bore down on the small mining town . . . bleaching the colour from the landscape and sapping the strength of its citizens.” Alice Valdal, The Man for Her.  In this opening sentence I’ve set an ominous mood with oppressive heat and listless citizens. The reader not only observes the street, she feels sweat under her collar.

**

“[The dog’s] head would rise like a periscope and he would slide over the edge of his basket and work his way into the bedroom, keeping low to the ground, as if he were hunting. He would stop a foot short of the bed and cock an ear and listen . . . his nose only six inches away.” Stuart McLean, “Arthur”

Laughter, the sixth wonder. No reader can be disengaged from a story that makes her laugh. Shakespeare knew this. Even in his most heart-rending tragedies, he included scenes of comic relief. An audience, or a reader, needs release from tension. Put a little laughter in your story. Your readers will thank you for it.

**

“In her dreams Evelyn would always return to a pristine white beach where the sand felt soft between her toes and Henry’s hand was warm in her.” Joanna Nell, The Last Voyage of Mrs. Henry Parker.  Here we have the seventh and greatest wonder of them all, love.

**

In science class we are taught that the five senses are sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. As writer’s we should include the school girl’s wonders, feeling, laughter and love.

Visits: 77

Quirks and Traits

I’m rereading a book where one of the main characters is an editor who mentally parses interesting words in her thoughts. E.g. while struggling with the onerous task of clearing her basement she thinks “Latin: onerosus, meaning ‘burden”.” This mental editing is a character quirk that has nothing do to with moving the plot forward, but it makes the character interesting and unusual, and keeps this reader turning pages.

Many authors use quirks in character building —

  • Colin Dexter’s Morse solves the Times crossword in record quick time.
  • Miss Marple knits and eavesdrops
  • Abby on NCIS covered in tattoos and piercings, looks scary but is kind and loving.

In science, trait refers to a characteristic that is caused by genetics, e.g. blue eyes. A quirk is defined as a peculiarity of behaviour, a mannerism. In the old TV show “Monk” the main character suffered from OCD. I’m sure living with that condition is very hard, but in the show Monk’s obsessive straightening and tidying and germaphobia is entertaining. In the British show, “Professor T,” the main character has a similar quirk. 

Habit, mannerism, trait, quirk, foible, idiosyncrasy . . . all mean more or less the same thing, but the consistent definition for “quirk” in different dictionaries is that the characteristic is strange, weird, peculiar or unexpected.  Whatever you call that odd thing your character does, the weirder you make it, the better when it comes to keeping your readers engaged. 

I think the trick to writing quirky characters is to keep the behaviours off-beat. A quick search of the internet turned up a list of 500 character quirks. Among the things listed are computer nerd, pacing when thinking, chewing fingernails, chewing gum . . . In my opinion, these habits aren’t weird enough to qualify as quirks.  

The quirk must be unique and unexpected. The first time I saw a movie where a daring-do hero was afraid of clowns I was delighted. Since then, I’ve seen that meme overused and it has lost its power. Now, whenever a clown comes on screen, I expect the cop/fireman/soldier to fear it. 

So, what would be some fun quirks to incorporate into a romance? Perhaps the heroine never meets a man without visualizing him as her groom. If he’s “the one,” we go directly to HEA. If he’s not “the one” the way in which the vision dissolves could be fun. e.g. he melts, or he grows a monkey tail and swings through the trees, or he explodes and destroys the wedding chapel.

In the old television show, Remington Steele, the title character solved mysteries by relating them to old movies. I found that quirk memorable and it heightened the dissonance between him and his lady boss, who was a trained detective. In that case, the quirk served to make the character unique and added to the romantic tension of the story.

In my book, The Man for Her, Lottie’s hatred of the search for gold could be described as a quirk, but I’d be more inclined to call it a learned characteristic since it comes from experience and, therefore, not that unexpected. Still, for a story set in the gold rush, having a heroine who hates gold is a bit quirky.

Not every book will have a quirky character. If they did the quirks would quickly become stale and boring. Still, if you can incorporate a little oddity into one of your characters, readers will remember.

Please share your favourite quirky characters in the comments below.

 

 

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