Friday, June 04, 2010
How quirky is too quirky?
The lovely and talented Tawna Fenske, one of my critique partners, just critiqued a revised chapter of mine.
Her most used word? Ick.
The character is supposed to be icky, but not quite as over-the-top icky as I'd apparently made him. It reminded me of the cardinal rule: in character building, as in life, less is more.
Too many times we writers fall in love with a good thing, a gotta-be-a-sure thing. We're like sous-chefs let loose while the master is away. And like those in-progress chefs, we reach for the obvious and dump in a whole lotta of quirkiness.
We're also -- at least I can be at times -- a lazy tribe. We read a popular book, and we think, "Ha! So you take a quirky character, and you give him a sidekick, and maybe an Achilles heel, and voila!"
I've actually seen this happen. I love Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series. The characters are so vivid and unique and -- yeah -- quirky. You've got a genius recluse detective and a man-about-town charmer sidekick/narrator, set in a brownstone that has a live-in chef in New York.
One day in a book store I picked up a detective mystery that looked promising. The jacket flap blurb reminded me of Nero Wolfe, so I bought it.
I got it home and started reading it, then literally threw it aside in disgust. No wonder it reminded me strongly of Nero Wolfe -- it was a slavish imitation of it, down to the in-house chef, the expensive hobby (tropical fish, I think, instead of orchids) and the man-about-town charmer sidekick/narrator. To compensate? The author upped the quirk factor.
Quirks stacked upon quirks do not an interesting character make. My rule: one quirky character per book, one quirk per quirky character. It can be a big quirk. It can be a hard-to-miss quirk. But it can't be lost in a sea of quirks.
Because, let's face it, real people just aren't that quirky. And real people will be reading my books to see if my characters seem real.
So now? I'm off to dial back the quirky/ick factor of my quirky/ick character.