Can eccentric characters come across as too eccentric? How does this affect your story?
Eccentric means “tending to act in strange or unusual ways,” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
How strange is strange? How unusual is unusual?
Let’s take a step back. We writers don’t want wooden characters – characters who act normal and live boring lives. Often these characters are stereotypes – the police officer who drinks a lot of coffee and eats donuts, the prostitute with the heart of gold. You get the picture. Readers don’t like the stereotype, the norm. It bores them and they may stop reading the story.
So we create eccentric characters. Sometimes these eccentric characters can go off the walls and distract readers from the story. Readers may also dislike the characters. Think about some of the sit-coms currently on TV. The old Jerry Steinfield TV show had eccentric characters, but it worked. Some of today’s just don’t. Just check out the ones that don’t last more than a season or perhaps not even a season. Viewers can’t connect to the sit-com’s characters,
Think Agatha Christie for eccentric characters such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. When you strip away their eccentricities you find each has a core ordinary connection to living. Hercule Poirot is a private detective and Miss Marple is a meddling old lady. These are common characters in everyday life.
In my novel Beyond Blood and in my short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point I have eccentric characters. I try to keep their eccentricity not too far out there, although I do wonder about the mother in “For the Love of Wills.” However, the characters in the four linked stories who also appear in Beyond Blood are what I call distinctive eccentric characters. Each is, to borrow the hackneyed phrase, “their own person,” from the stuttering police DetectiveSergeant Donald Fielding who occasionally suffers from migraines to my meddling old lady – Great Aunt Doris. She is old-school and anything that is modern she tends to turn her nose down at – the gay twin PI Bast and his fraternal twin sister Dana’s status as working mother of a small boy.
Yes, you could say that these characteristics are often part of old ladies. So, I take these and work them in with how Doris relates with the other main characters, Dialogue plays a big part here. So does action. Doris really loves Dana’s son David and he seems to get along with her. Doris, also is the one who takes care of Madge, after her daughter Debbie is murdered. But I have added another eccentricity to Doris. She always lands on Dana, David and Bast at the most unexpected and inconvenient times. In Beyond Blood, she knocks on their door at 3 a.m. while police are there investigating a break and enter.
Bottom line with me? Create all characters as individuals – no two are alike (even the twins are different, but they are also fraternal twins, so don’t even look alike). Stay away from the stereotype; just don’t go to the opposite of extremely eccentric. You may just come up with interesting eccentric characters who work with and in your plot.
And please your readers to the point where they look forward to reading more about them and their adventures in your next book.
Sharon A. Crawford
Click on the Beyond Blood cover at the top to find out where copies are available.