Creating Quirky Characters
characters add spice to a story and can also be used as a source of
tension. In our science fiction novel, Animal Future, we began with the
premise that in the near future, an unexplained phenomenon has caused
some species to become intellectually elevated to the point that they
are classified “provisional humans” and can hold down human jobs.
Although our book is a humorous action-thriller, there is an important
sub-text that asks: Suppose the “Elevation” actually occurred. How can
two very different populations learn to get along with each other? In
real life, this is a vitally serious question, and serious questions can
often be asked most effectively when mixed with humor. That means our
novel needs humorous characters.
by Robert and Darrin McGraw
We start with a chimpanzee character, but immediately we have a problem: chimpanzees wearing clothes are a cliché. We counter that by pushing it a step farther and making our chimp, Mr. Brian, even more “clothed” than a human would be. He’s a “bespoke” (custom) gentleman’s tailor with a deep knowledge of the fashion industry. Naturally, a high-end clothier like Brian wears high-quality suits, French cuff shirts , and silver cuff links. He speaks impeccable English and is unfailingly polite. We then put pressure on those traits when Brian and two humans, Autumn and Mack, go on the run from terrorists trying to kill them. Having to sleep in a zoo, go without showering, and sweat profusely while battling to stay alive will strain anybody’s fastidiousness and courtesy. This means conflict. Sometimes it’s Autumn and Brian in conflict with Mack; at other times it’s Brian and Mack in conflict with Autumn.
Brian also has to learn to appreciate the quirkiness of humans. Mack, a rough-edged but pragmatic spy with a wisecrack for every situation, thinks in divergent ways that don’t match Brian’s honest and conservative nature. This puts pressure on Brian to learn new ways to solve problems, which he does by learning to change his way of thinking.
Autumn, the Vietnamese-American policewoman who is fleeing with them, has her own quirks, among them an interest bordering on reverence for the cultural history of Vietnam (unlike the rest of her Westernized family, ironically). Brian, however, is an entrepreneur who looks very much to the future. As an “elevated” Provie, he has little sense of the history of his species, and therefore can’t understand or appreciate Autumn’s dedication to the past. We put pressure on this trait by having Brian switch identities with a chimp employee at the zoo. There Brian begins to see that it can be helpful to know how things worked in the past if you are trying to deal with the problems of the present.
As a chimpanzee, Brian has stupendous latent physical strength and aggression. Ironically, he has to be encouraged by the humans to get in touch with his ape side and be less cerebral and more physical. This leads him to take the actions that eventually make him a hero.
In short, in this example we build up the quirkiness of the character by
- Making the character’s traits more extreme
- Giving the character conflicting traits
- Giving the character traits that go against the typical expectation
- Placing the character in situations and with other characters who test or strain those traits
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =KINDLE
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Since the mysterious Elevation of animal intelligence, San Diego has been flooded with immigrant animals and society has changed. Officer Autumn Winn wants to leave the Tactical Assault squad and become an expert on her Vietnamese heritage. But first she has to prove she’s not guilty of murdering her partner. To do that, she has to rescue the kidnapped wife of the chimpanzee tailor Mr. Brian.
In the process she is forced to cooperate with Mack Davis, a good-looking but smart-mouthed operative trying to stay alive long enough to retrieve his digital wristband with its vital data, and also discover the secret of a jade figurine he just transported from Singapore.
As they race to find Brian's wife, the trio must navigate a colorful landscape of characters including a comical pair of ferrets; a wealthy human socialite; a chimpanzee paramilitary commander; and Urizen, the deranged king of underground intelligence in Southern California.
(Watch for Animal Future - Book 2 to be published in November.) [MA: WHEEEEEEE!]
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =Author BIOs: Robert McGraw and Darrin McGraw
Robert McGraw has had several professions, but his most difficult job is convincing his wife he's actually working even when he's just staring out the window. He is the author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles, as well as three books. Two of his television scripts won awards from the International Television Association.
A former professional symphony musician who spent several years playing for the Cape Town Symphony in South Africa, Robert has a Master's degree in Education and completed the work (all but dissertation) for a Ph.D. in music. He also studied art at The Ruth Prowse School of Art in Cape Town and creates visual art in a variety of styles. His works are represented in the collection of the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
------------Darrin McGraw grew up more or less in a succession of libraries. He is pleased to note that the New York Public Library has a McGraw Rotunda, though he cannot actually take credit for this. He graduated from Stanford University and earned a Ph.D. in English from UCLA. After working in online software development he served for eight years as the writing director of the Culture, Art and Technology program at UC San Diego.
Besides writing and reading he has many other interests including early music, alternative architecture, and woodworking. When scientists have finished cloning the woolly mammoth he has a few other extinct species to suggest, including Cleopatra and Dr. Samuel Johnson.