(noun) a mode of behavior or way of thought peculiar to an individual.
This word is a bit of a cheat on my part. This month I’ve been trying to pick words that I didn’t know, and this isn’t one of them. I totally know what idiosyncrasy means. Idiosyncrasies are one of my favorite things to think about. Which makes them extremely easy to write about. Which means totally cheating for the sake of an easy article. So, yeah…pretend you didn’t read this paragraph.
I like to call them quirks. Idiosyncrasies are whatever special thing you do that only you do. I like to think that quirks tell us more about people than any other source of information. Sure, you can have someone tell you about their life and what they do and where they were born and so on. But if I see them go around their house turning off all the lights, I’ve learned something deeper about them. If they pick apart a sandwich and eat it out of order, I’m going to know them that much better. Or maybe they always check that everyone has their seatbelt on before they start driving. Those idiosyncrasies stem from experience, and once you figure it out, you know them even better.
For example, some of my personal idiosyncrasies are passed down from my family. The turning off of unused lights is one of mine, courtesy of my British grandmother. My grandma grew up just outside of London during World War 2 and survived the Blitzkrieg bombings. Supplies were scarce then, which turned my grandmother into a very frugal person. You couldn’t waste a resource back then, or else you just didn’t have it. Combined with my grandpa, who had grown up on a farm in the Depression where the only food they had was the food they could grow, Grandma’s house was always an exercise in conservation. As far as the lights go, my grandmother would charge me a nickel for every light I left on when I left a room (alternatively, she gave me a nickel every time I remembered to turn the lights off, so it wasn’t all bad!) Also, my grandparents made me an obsessive plate-cleaner. If there is food on my plate, no matter how full I am, I will force it down. Food was not to be wasted at grandma’s house; Food was a privilege! And since I was a good little girl who always followed all the rules, I ate every single thing on my plate for ever and always. Yay for the development of lifelong habits that may or may not be good for me!
Idiosyncrasies play an important part in my fiction writing as well. They help make a character unique and vibrant. I have one character that obsesses over fancy cloaks, despite living in the wilderness the majority of the time. Another one will tune his guitar as a means to calm himself down. One despises general conversation because it reminds him how out-of-touch he is with the world. And then there’s the one that hates anything around their neck, like necklaces, neckties, etc…
None of these are particularly important to the plot or overall story, but they are vital nonetheless. Without idiosyncrasies, you might as well be playing with cardboard cutouts of Hero Stereotype B and Damsel-in-Distress 11. Quirks and strange habits are what differentiate your characters from anyone else’s and help you get to know your character even better. Real people have idiosyncrasies, why shouldn’t real characters? Plus, readers enjoy them too! I’d like my protagonist with an extra helping of silly quirks, please!
So what are some of your personal idiosyncrasies? Do you know any fictional characters whose quirks you have emulated (be it your own characters, or from a book/movie/tv show)? Let me know in the comments so I can gather more of them for my personal quirk vault!