The Red String Bracelet Or The Problem with Quirks

Thanks everyone for the great input on my last post! Got some great ideas. You rock, did you know that? Anyway, still on the subject of my difficulties with heroines, I had a bit of a brainwave today. It actually happened while I was doing a pilates class (as you do). I realised that in order to do some of the exercises, I was over-compensating for my weak arms by using my shoulders, which are really strong. I know, what’s your point Jackie? Well, the point is that I am doing something similiar with my heroines. In order to cover my weak character development, I have been over-relying on quirks to make my heroines different.

Kate is a case in point. She started out a hippy because I didn’t really understand conflict at the time and making her a stereotype was an easy way of characterising her. Bad move. And I think that’s why I’m finding it difficult to get a handle on her now because once I take away the stereotype, where is my character? In stripping her of her quirks (eco beliefs, nose-ring) I’ve exposed the fact that she has no real conflict. She’s just a cardboard cutout. So I have to go back to basics, dig deep to find out who she is. Build up a real background with real problems.

Once I’ve got that, I can add those quirks back again – but only if they are true to the person she is now. Because although quirks aren’t bad, if you’re going to use them there has to be a reason for them. I think I’ve mentioned this before in other posts but if, for example, you take the time to mention your heroine’s love of sparkly red shoes, you should then also explain why she likes them. Is she like Dorothy and they represent escape? And if so, what is she escaping and why?

Kate, for example, has retained one of her old quirks (no, not the nose-ring). She wears a friendship bracelet of red string around one wrist. Now, in the old draft there wasn’t any reason for behind this, she wore it because I put it there. In the new draft however, she wears it because her brother gave it to her before he left to go overseas. She hasn’t seen him in years and for her, it represents his connection to her. And now, because I’ve linked it to her conflict, it also represents the family that she once had and loved, and that is slowly slipping away from her. Now, I’m sure Alex will make a comment on this bracelet and perhaps it’ll come to mean something for him too. Perhaps, once I write the thing, he’ll help Kate to change its meaning so that it doesn’t represent what she lost, but what remains strong. Because he has his own lesson to teach her, just as she has something to teach him.

Anyway, all this has been great distraction from the waiting. So, anyone else have a problem with unexplainable quirks?

25 thoughts on “The Red String Bracelet Or The Problem with Quirks”

  1. As per usual – fab post. Thanks for yet another enlightening insight.

    Oh I like the idea of the bracelet. I think the potential is huge there cause jewelry holds so much symolism and linking it to conflict is fantastic.

    Not sure I’ve had any encounters with quirks – does matching toepolish/underwear count???

  2. It’s a bit like the strappy sandal debate – everything having to be there for a reason.
    I did baulk a little at first hearing that but I think I understand now it’s about digging deeper into your characters.

  3. First off, love what you’ve done with the bracelet and how it now ties in with conflict, and what it might come to mean between the H and h. Good stuff.

    It reminds me of building the heroine from my last MS, Sabrina. In the beginning I didn’t know a lot about her. I had her physical description (curvy) and that she had been in unrequited love with the hero for years. As I was writing it came up that she had come to terms with her curvier figure since she liked food too much to starve herself, and from there it sort of just made sense that she was a chef. Not really part of her conflict, but it is a part of her character and, to me, it grew naturally.

  4. Hi Jackie, love to read your about journey, how you think things through and how you arrive at your conclusions! It’s so helpful! Characterization is something I absolutely obsess about. I literally spend 2 – 3 weeks on it before I even start writing anything in the book. I build up what I call a ‘character map’ (it’s really just a spreadsheet) and detail pretty much their lives focusing on what makes them the person they are. Most of it never gets explicitly referenced in the book but its the foundation for how they act and why. For me it works because I have the person so solidly built in my head I can throw them into any situation, any scene, with any character, and I pretty much know how they will react and what they’ll say without too much thought. My plot might suck of course, but hopefully the reader will relate to the characters!!

  5. Janette – Thanks. But no, sounds like you’re quirk-free!

    Lorraine – I think it’s all in if you make a point of describing how much your character likes strappy sandals, if it’s a big deal, then it’s a good idea to give a reason why. Even if it’s just they like being taller. Character insight and all that.

    Maisey – cheers! The bracelet was a happy circumstance really. And as for your heroine, love that idea. Kate’s profession as an architect is linked to her conflict – she’s desperate to retain what she sees as ‘home’ and so creating homes for others naturally follows.

    Kaily – that sounds like a really good idea re your character map. I’m not that disciplined sadly and just get stuck in with the story. Which can be a mistake. Especially since I’ve been tweaking the beginning of this story for what feels like years. Think I should try your approach next time.

  6. Hopefully I didn’t sound too arrogant because of course I’m still figuring it all out too! THe map works for me. If I’ve learned anything in this business so far it’s that there are many different writing styles and processes. None of them are right or wrong. You just have to find the one that works for you and lets you produce to your potential. I think that’s half the battle.

  7. Jackie great blog as always. I like how you peel away at the writing onion and discover rose petals.
    For me, I don’t see quirks as a problem as long as it’s an aspect of a character. I can’t think of anyone I know who doesn’t have some kind of quirk. It makes us real and understandably different from each other. Caricatures on the other hand are stock characters. Kate doesn’t sound stock to me. She’s fleshing out beautifully and becoming ‘herself’.
    The bracelet made of string is a perfect door into her character.
    Like Janette said, jewelry is a very personal and emotionally revealing item.
    And as wont to do, I can’t help but see the symbolism. As usual my mind ran with it.
    Strings can be visible or invisible.
    Like people, they can be woven together making them strong and unbreakable or with time wear down and slowly unravel. They can also catch and hold onto other things. And sadly they can unknowingly break and be lost forever.
    And best of all – string bracelets are worn by men too.;)

  8. Great post Jackie. Thought she was into Kaballah with the red string for a moment…
    But seriously, I really like that idea, that she has an entire backstory link that means so much to her that she wears it everyday. It also hints at her romantic side, I think everyone wears jewellery for a reason.
    In my reworking wip I have a golden granulated ball pendant that the heroine made (she’s a jeweller who replicate antiquities for museums) and when she’s kidnapped by boat the hero finds it next to the water. He wears it for the rest of the book, until he finds her again.

  9. Kaily – no of course you didn’t come across that way at all. I hope I don’t! Yeah, this is all stuff I’m learning too and as you say, what works for me may not work for others and vice versa. But it’s great that other people share the way they work because who knows? The whole way you do something might not work for me, but an aspect of it might. It’s all good stuff.

    Eve – great comment! Yeah, quirks in themselves are great ways to characterise people but I guess my problem was that there was nothing behind them. I had put them there as the author, they had nothing to do with Kate’s character.
    Loved what you say about Kate becoming ‘herself’. She really is. And what you’re saying about the bracelet is exacly it. It’s a symbolic tie that has become faded and worn. I think part of Alex’s role is to show her that connections don’t have to be physical, that’s it’s what’s in your heart that matters.
    Oooh, yes though, men can wear bracelets can’t they? Hmmm…. 🙂

    Sally – Kaballah! Argh, didn’t even think of that. But no, steering right away from religion here… Yep, Kate’s also got a whole wristful of silver rings on the other hand and these are from her mother – another relationship that she’s lost.
    Gosh, LOVE your pendant idea. It’s the symbolism that’s so powerful. Sounds like a fab story.

  10. My current heroine has a tattoo. I know that tattooed heroines really don’t go down well, but I just had to keep it as it’s part of her. Her nickname is Phoenix, and the tattoo is of a phoenix. Both are symblic of who she is and how she’s chosen to live her life. So I wait to see what the editors’ll think, if they even ask to see this …
    Back to that waiting thing again!

  11. *snicker* Kaballah…that was actually what I thought at first too, but when you don’t just have ‘red string bracelet’ in the generic, it won’t come across that way.

    Romy, I’ve read a couple tattooed heroines recently. I think when it’s part of the character and it makes sense, it works.

  12. Romy – I quite like tattoos. Yeah, if it has meaning to the character then it can come across well.
    With you on the waiting. When will it ever end??

    Maisey – Hope it won’t come across that way. It shouldn’t – not when she explains why she’s wearing it.

  13. Jackie,

    wonderful how you tied in her quirk to her conflict. I think quirks make characters more fleshed out but, like you said, only if it has some significance. I think my problem is the opposite. Sometimes, I think, I make my characters all about the conflict, like they have no life beyond this issue they’re facing with the hero/heroine.
    Not good!

  14. See, I really don’t care for tattoos or piercings (other than the normal ones!) but any piercings on hero, blech. But see, that’s me, and again, if it relates to the character even I don’t mind. But I remember reading a Desire where the hero had a tattoo of a panther that went over chest and shoulder, he had long hair, and an earring, and all I could think was…Whoa, hello Mr. 1991!

    This is not related to your heroine’s tattoo, Romy, which I’m sure is fine.

  15. Sri – yeah, that can happen too. It’s tricky to get that balance right. Giving them friends/work/relations can help. Mind you then you run into the problem of sub-characters!

    Maisey – Lol!! Yeah, I’m not a fan of long hair or piercings on the hero either. But a tattoo…well, they can be sexy on the right person. It’s totally dependent on the type of tattoo and where it is.

  16. Agreed. I just read Loves me, Loves me Knot by Heidi Betts and the hero was a very tattooed cop, and he’d gotten his last tattoo after his divorce and it covered most of his back and he’d had his ex-wife’s name worked into the design because she was still the love of his life. And I loved that. 🙂 Esp since the heroine was the ex-wife so they got to get back together. 🙂 But the tattoos served a very definite purpose and the heroine found them so sexy it was hard not to see her POV on them.

  17. Noooo, not a billionaire. But he was an undercover cop. Not a category romance so a lot more uh…leeway in the plot. 🙂 Some people didn’t like it, since the h ties the H up and drugs him to make a baby with him…but hey, when he woke up, he so wanted it. I liked it.

  18. Hey Jackie.
    Surely quirks are part of layering. I’m fascinated by people like the Duchess of Alba–an octogenarian who dresses a la Alannah Hill (quirky designer) and loves to defy the Spanish upper class/Royals by holding on to her 40something yrs old boyfriend. Plenty of controversy/conflict in her life (her daughter doesn’t lag far behind). Then there’s Nathalie Hambro, a member of the Hambro banking family — upper echelons and all that jazz. She has a bee tattoo on her wrist (I’m sure there’s a story behind that). Almost makes it difficult to picture her as a committee member of the Royal School of Needle-work. I get the feeling their quirks are simply part of who they are. Throw a colourful character in with a short/back and sides hero and I’m hooked. Combine quirks with attitude and you’re sure to find conflict. By the sounds of it, you already have. Maybe you need to put aside the MS and come back to it with fresh eyes

  19. Yeah, if you want something fun,LOL funny, different, and fairly filthy, (f bombs galore…) check out the Chicks With Sticks trilogy. Heidi Betts.

  20. Veronica – sure, quirks are part of the layering. But my problem was that there wasn’t a reason for them. And if you make a point of them, you have to give the readers a reason for them otherwise your character will come across like a cardboard set – looks impressive but there’s nothing behind it. I think it’s different for everyone – some will put in the quirks and then build the reasons for them. Others decide on the conflict first and then put in quirks that help characterise. Like that bee tattoo. If I was reading about a heroine with one, I’d want to know why she had it. Why a bee? Why a tattoo? And if it wasn’t ever explained by the author, then what was the point in the first place? But I think I’ve got Kate’s basics figured out. Now I just need to write her down so I can learn more about her.Tricky stuff!

    Maisey – will do.

  21. Hi Jackie – agree with everyone who said this is a brilliant post. Love that you can explain the mechanics behind character so well and can totally see where the bracelet ties in with Kate and her story.

    Hugs re the waiting.

    Maisey – I think an episode of Desperate Housewives had the same drugged up/baby making plot. Of course, being tv rather than romance, the victim loathed his ex wife and wasn’t at all happy with proceedings.


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