150+ Useful Character Quirks (Plus a Few Clichés to Avoid)
Writing great characters is a constant balancing act — you want each one to have certain quirks and character flaws, but you don’t want them to be SO zany that they’re off-putting to readers. So how can you come up with realistic traits that humanize your characters, without falling into cliché?
Luckily, this post offers a list of over 150 unique character quirks and traits that avoid cliché and can help make the people in your story much more relatable! But before we get into that, here are a few notes on what character quirks are in stories and how to use them.
What are character quirks?
A character quirk is an unusual feature that sets your character apart from others. Many of the most famous figures in literature have distinctive quirks, from Harry Potter’s lightning scar to Hercule Poirot’s mind-blowing detective abilities.
To clarify, “quirk” doesn’t just mean any descriptive quality — for example, having brown hair does nothing to make your character special. Having blue hair, however, is a different story. Basically, for something to be a quirk, it has to stand out from the pack; it has to be, well, quirky.
This might be a physical feature or something about your character’s personality. It might be a special talent (like heightened intelligence) or a paralyzing fear (like arachnophobia). But whatever it is, it should be unusual enough that readers remember it and associate it with whichever character possesses that trait.
How to use character quirks
You might think that deploying a character quirk is pretty simple — just think of one, add it to a description, and you’re done! But it’s actually a bit more nuanced than that. Here are a few ways to ensure that these quirks work effectively in your story.
Make them important to the plot
Some of the best quirks are those that end up aiding the character or contributing to the plot in some major way. For instance, one of Katniss’ traits in The Hunger Games is that she’s an exceptional hunter, and her skill with a bow and arrow ultimately helps her survive the games. Or think about the example above of Harry’s scar — not only is it a unique physical feature, but it also lets him know when Voldemort is nearby.
If the story is told in first person point of view, your character's quirks will be at the forefront. Use them wisely, to avoid tiring the reader.
Don’t overuse them
Avoid making any of your characters too quirky. You don’t want any of them, especially female characters, to cross the line from unique to unbelievably idiosyncratic.
Also avoid describing these quirks in too much detail, as this can lead to overly ornate descriptions that make readers cringe. If you find yourself writing a paragraph in your YA romance about “her freckled face that looked like constellations of hazel, shimmering dots practically leaping off her countenance,” stop and reevaluate. Even when introducing a quirk, a brief mention is enough: “A puzzled expression spread across her freckled face.”
Be consistent, with occasional exceptions
Some of these traits should define how your characters act most of the time, but rules are made to be broken — which is why it’s okay to let people go against their quirks every once in a while. For example, a notoriously unfunny person might crack a decent joke, or somebody super-stoic sheds a tear. After all, if a character doesn’t defy their typical traits every once in a while, they’re at risk of becoming flat.
Try to stay original
As you’re figuring out which quirks to give your characters, do your best to be as innovative and original as possible. While almost every quirk in the book has been used at one time or another, your characters’ traits should function in different ways and create a totally unique dynamic in your story.
That being said, here are some ideas to get the ball rolling on various quirks you might use. They’re divided by physical features, personality traits, and strengths and weaknesses, for your perusing convenience. There’s also a list of clichéd quirks at the very end, so you know exactly which ones to avoid. Enjoy!
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150+ useful character quirks
These traits have to do with someone’s looks or physical mannerisms.
- Unique eye or hair color
- Extremely short or tall
- Some discerning physical mark — birthmark, freckles, mole, or scar
- Wears unusual glasses
- Has braces and headgear
- Large feet — may mean they’re clumsy
- Bites their nails/lips or chews on their hair
- Constantly fidgeting and can’t sit still
- Acne, eczema, or other skin problems
- Many tattoos or piercings
- Often sick or has allergies (constantly sniffling/blowing their nose)
- Talks very loudly or quietly
- Says everything like it’s a question
- Terrible breath — may be a coffee drinker
- Gets sweaty easily (especially when nervous)
- Unusually hairy arms or legs
- Very long painted nails
- Always wears a faceful of makeup
- Has a stutter or other speech impediment
- Often tucks their hair behind their ears
- Constantly chews gum
- Always picking their teeth
- Smokes and has a raspy voice
- Breathes heavily or snores
- Is extremely muscular
- Walks very slowly or quickly
- Left-handed or ambidextrous
- Constantly scratching themselves
- Has some noticeable physical tic, like a twitch
- Always wears a distinct item of clothing or accessory — a favorite pair of socks, a lucky jersey, or even a particular shade of lipstick
If you choose to assign a specific physical quirk to character, remember to be consistent! It can be distracting to readers if someone keeps alternating between eye colors, or if they’re supposed to be extremely short, but have no trouble reaching a high shelf.
Of course, these can be some of the hardest details to remember, since physical appearance isn’t an inherent part of your character’s personality and won’t necessarily affect how they act. Try using a character profile template to keep track of these quirks so you don’t accidentally contradict yourself!
And speaking of personality…
These qualities describe how someone acts and what they’re like.
- Very introverted, quiet and reserved, keeps to themselves
- Highly extroverted, loves socializing and meeting new people
- Mega control freak who has to have everything their way
- Neat freak (often coincides with control freak)
- Total slob who never knows where anything is
- Super stubborn and will never admit when they’re wrong
- Brutally honest and can’t lie to save their life
- Extremely judgmental of other people
- Short-tempered, especially when irritated
- Always patient, even when frustrated
- Hilarious or odd sense of humor
- Very hard to make them laugh
- Loves to eat and is obsessed with food
- Loves to drink and is constantly partying
- Constantly complains about everything
- Extremely loyal and will do anything for their friends/family
- Adventurous and willing to try anything
- Cautious and careful no matter what
- Energetic, hardly ever needs to rest
- Sleeps all the time and still gets tired during the day
- Horrible sense of direction and constantly gets lost
- Overachiever who loves school/structure
- Really modest and won’t ever brag about themselves
- Extremely emotional and will cry at the drop of a hat
- Stoic and detached, rarely shows emotion
- Wildcard whose behavior is unpredictable, even to their friends
- Notoriously two-faced and will betray anyone
- Charismatic and can convince anyone to do their bidding
- Very proper and always polite to others
- Dates tons of people and has a new boyfriend or girlfriend every week
- Obsessive personality — whether it’s a TV show, brand, musical artist, or even another person, they’ll get attached and think/talk about it constantly
Some of these clearly match up with each other (like being adventurous and energetic), while some are opposites (like being short-tempered vs. patient). However, some might overlap even if they don’t seem like they should — for example, someone with a great sense of humor might still be hard to make laugh because they’d have very high standards for what’s funny. As you’re creating characters, think carefully about these traits and how they might relate to each other.
Strengths and weaknesses
This section contains suggestions for unique strengths and talents, as well as weaknesses or negative traits one might possess.
- Fantastic cook or baker
- Skilled musician (piano, guitar, violin, etc.)
- Artistic talent (drawing, painting, sculpting, etc.)
- Model athlete (football, hockey, swimming, etc.)
- Great at voices/ventriloquy
- Can do sleight-of-hand — may be a pickpocket
- Speaks multiple languages, even obscure ones
- Knows everything about history
- Mathematical or scientific genius
- Brilliant coder and can hack into any database
- Skilled mechanical inventor
- Can build or put together anything
- Super-quick logical reasoning
- Exceptional memory/genius IQ (several of the above might fall under this one)
- Special connection with animals
- Super empathetic and understanding of other people
- Extremely fast runner
- Contortionist (can twist their body into any shape)
- Psychic talent (can predict the future)
- Amazing mechanic
- Super strength, flying, invisibility or other superpowers
- Unusually high tolerance for pain
- Survival skills like hunting and fishing
- Quick reflexes, acts fast in a crisis
- Brave and fearless, not scared of anything
- Able to talk their way out of any trouble/invent stories on the fly
- Awful driver
- Always running late
- Illegible handwriting
- Terrible at public speaking
- Socially awkward — hard for them to make friends
- Has tons of credit card debt from online shopping
- Self-destructive and always wants what’s worst for them
- Gets blackout drunk every time they go out
- Extremely conceited or arrogant
- Compulsive liar
- Manipulative of friends
- Gets jealous over nothing
- Often mean for no reason
- Unbelievably self-centered
- Extremely passive-aggressive
- Arachnophobia (irrational fear of spiders)
- Coulrophobia (irrational fear of clowns)
- Agoraphobia (irrational fear of leaving the house)
- Pantophobia (fear of everything)
Be careful how you incorporate these strengths and weaknesses, as you don’t want their inclusion to seem unnatural. After all, personality traits tend to reveal themselves on a daily basis, but this may not be true for their special talents and fears.
Indeed, sometimes the best way to use quirks like these is to surprise your reader with it at the right moment. Maybe it’s the eleventh hour, and your MC has nowhere else to turn, only for their friend’s special skill to save the day!
Also, as you can tell from both lists, there’s quite a range of strengths and weaknesses you can give your characters. Some of those talents require more practice than others, and some of the weaknesses are greater flaws than others — for instance, being a mean or manipulative person is obviously much worse than having bad handwriting. However, it’s good to be familiar with a wide range of both major and minor quirks so you can create more well-rounded characters.
These are idiosyncrasies that don’t really fit into any of the above categories, but could still be of good use in your story.
- Dresses all in one color
- Bedroom is decorated exactly like a Pinterest picture
- Won’t drink still water, only sparkling
- Refuses to use headphones and blasts their music in public
- Always dresses too nicely for the occasion
- Walks around barefoot, even in stores and other public places
- Hates being inside, sleeps and goes to the bathroom outdoors
- Can’t help but look in every mirror they pass
- Wears a small plastic backpack everywhere
- Preps their meals three weeks in advance
- Drinks shots of espresso all day long
- Sings opera in the shower
- Makes their own (terrible) abstract art and hangs it on their walls
- Gets super excited about Christmas and then really depressed in January
- Refuses to wear glasses even though they need them
- Carries around a secret teddy bear
- Has been wearing the same friendship bracelet for three years
- Fastidiously lint-rolls all their clothing
- Will leave a shop or restaurant if someone walks in with a baby
- Extremely superstitious (knocks on wood, avoids the number 13, etc.)
- Drops everything other people ask them to hold
- Likes to go out dancing by themselves
- Prefers to have the lights off or dimmed at all times
- Only reads books written before 1900
- Only watches movies that get really bad reviews
- Always wears multiple sweaters on top of each other
- Won’t eat anything that doesn’t have bread (at least on the side)
- Thinks they’re a time-traveler from the medieval era
- Gives friends and family excellent homemade presents
- Leaves the office last every day so they can push all the chairs in
- Hates jagged numbers (always fills their gas tank to the dollar, sends emails on the hour, etc.)
- Has an imaginary friend they still talk to, even in adulthood
- Owns a lizard that they try and use as a guard dog
- Listens exclusively to Britney Spears
- Leaves little notes in library books for future readers
- Uses tissues to hold onto poles on public transportation
- Wears their hair in Princess Leia buns
- Never goes a day without talking to their mom
- Hums “In the Hall of the Mountain King” when they get stressed
- Clucks their tongue while walking, so they sound like a horse
- Quotes Pulp Fiction all the time
- Loves hanging out in completely empty places
- Convinced they’re going to die in a freak accident
- Grows all their own food in their vegetable garden
- Never pays for train or bus tickets
- Can recite Shakespearean sonnets
- Recycles and eats vegetarian, but only out of guilt
- Has a “vision board” posted on their ceiling
- Loves the beach but hates swimming
- Flicks people in the forehead when they get annoyed
- Laughs at everything, even bad jokes
- Curates a great Instagram feed of street art
Clichéd “quirks” to avoid
Giving your characters interesting tics can cross-over into ham-fisted writing if your quirks are used way too much, like the following:
- Pale skin
- Crooked smile
- “Intense” stare
- Relentless clumsiness
- Artificial hair colors that are supposedly natural
- Characters thinking they’re unattractive when everyone else thinks they’re beautiful
- Basically, any archetype that hasn’t been developed enough
When readers see these traits on the page, they roll their eyes and think, “Ugh, not again.” Many of these aren’t even quirks, but fairly common traits that the writer attempts to romanticize. Traits like these signify to the reader that the author has barely put any thought into developing their characters — they’ve just chosen ostensibly quirky features that are actually overused and ineffective. So stay away from them at all costs!
As we said, the business of selecting and integrating quirks is more complicated than it seems. But after reading through this guide, you should have a much better understanding of what they are and how to use them… not to mention a tremendous variety of quirks from which to choose! So will your character be a gum-chewing code genius or a short-tempered contortionist? From here on out, it’s all up to you.
What are some of your characters' quirks? Tell us in the comments below!