Let your imagination fly with quirky character traits

Photo by Scott Liddell

Photo by Scott Liddell

I’ll be honest – when Krissy Brady said she was going to introduce me to character development through pets, I was sceptical. Heck, I was scared – this woman was going to be a guest on my blog!

But then I sat and thought about it … the pets I’ve had, the pets of others. Each dog, cat, parakeet, chinchilla, or fish has quirky, odd, sometimes nutso characteristics.

I worked through my initial zoo-phobic reaction – and I’m so glad I did!

Please welcome writer and blogger Krissy Brady.

How Pets Can Help With the Creation of Compelling Characters

by Krissy Brady

You have been pouring your creative energy into a novel that consists of a stellar plotline, vivid imagery, a use of symbolism that rivals the greats, and then the unspeakable happens:

Your characters fall flatter than the pages they’re described on.

There are many elements a writer must consider when creating a captivating novel, and at the top of that list is developing strong characters.aracters. Your readers want to live and feel vicariously through those you have created to tell your story, and they’re not going to feel anything if cardboard cut outs have more flare.  What makes a character truly memorable?

It’s all in the details.

It’s the little things your readers will connect with: the habits, quirks, and “imperfections” your characters have that make them human.  Your characters must have a past, traits, hobbies, interests, goals, dreams, and you have to provide them.

While not an example from a novel, the character of Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets (played by Jack Nicholson) is the epitome of unique and “imperfect”—his use of plastic cutlery in restaurants, his refusal to step on sidewalk cracks, his door locking routine—these traits are what make Melvin distinct.  What hooks us further is the fact that these traits, which are so deeply engrained in him, are the very traits that are working against Melvin as he tries to win the heart of “Carol the waitress.”  This makes him not only believable, but relatable: how many times have you strived for something, only to find the deep-seated aspects of your personality were holding you back?

This is the type of connection your readers must have with your characters, so that your story is remembered long after they have closed the book.

Where to begin?

I always like to delve into the more detailed aspects of my writing after a warm-up exercise.  It helps me to shut down the critical thinking portion of my mind so I can fully focus on my creativity. For this character development exercise, you are going to be enlisting help from your pet.  I know, I know:

What the heck does my pet have to do with character development?

Our pets are unique, just like the characters we want to create for our novel, and we can study the details of our pet’s personality without any pesky dialogue getting in the way.  The best part about this exercise is our pets do not hold back like people do: what you see is what you get, and this will help us to create equally authentic characters.

You can even take the study of your pet’s personality one step further, by not only studying their traits, but by looking into the possibilities of where they may have acquired these traits.

Let’s use my cat Dre as an example. After spending the entire day with him, I learned that:

  • When something is out of place or has been moved to a new location in our home, Dre has to complete a careful inspection of the item (sniffing, swatting, staring), and will sleep on said item until a new inspection is to be made. Potential character trait: fearful of change.
  • No door, under any circumstance, can be shut in the apartment. He will either head butt the door open, or given the right kind of handle, attempt to open the door on his hind legs. He has to have full access to every room. Potential character trait: forcefully independent.
  • When Dre hears someone in the hallway of our apartment building, he growls like a rabid dog. Potential personality trait: territorial.

An example of taking your character’s traits one step further to build his/her backstory:

  • When Dre hears children, he hides under the bed. Backstory: my boyfriend’s little sister used to dress Dre in doll clothes and had what I like to call an “enthusiastic affection” for him (think Elmyra Duff from Looney Tunes).

Give it a try!

Studying your pet’s personality will open your mind to an entirely new level of creativity, one that will help you to create compelling characters your readers will find unforgettable.

Eeyore. Boo Radley. Scarlett O’Hara. Holden Caulfield. Will your character be next?

About Krissy Brady

Krissy Brady is a freelance writer located in Gravenhurst, Ontario Canada. She runs a blog for writers dedicated to keeping the passion for writing alive, and is currently working on her first novel, poetry collection, and screenplay. Follow Krissy at her blog.

Dre reviews Krissy’s work in progress

“A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.” –Robert Benchley

What makes your pet memorable? What quirk does your pet have that could be translated into a cool character trait?

Sources –

Opening photo by Scott Liddell

Brainy Quote


Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers

30 responses to “Let your imagination fly with quirky character traits

  1. So very true. I sometimes think I could populate “War and Peace” with the all the animals I’ve known!

    (love Robert Benchley, btw–makes one long for the days of Roundtable wit!)

  2. Jessica

    Oooooo! This got me thinking today. Thanks for unleashing the creative juices!

  3. I’m passing that Benchley quote along to Hubby. Great idea about looking to our pets. Sometimes our dogs have traits that I don’t like, which would make for interesting “people” characters. I’m trying to think of an unusual trait to share that doesn’t involve marking or eating poop. Hmm. Enjoy both of your blogs. Thanks for sharing over here Krissy.

  4. Never thought of studying my pets for quirkyness! This made me smile. . .

    I love a good quirky, unique character, especially when it’s subtly done so I see the character as “real.”

    Over here from Writer Unboxed!

    • Thanks for reading! I had never thought about it either up until recently, when I noticed my cat doing unique things on a consistent basis. It got me to thinking about my own quirks, where they may have come from, and then the thought process spilled into the characters I’m working on for my screenplay. I love lightbulb moments!

  5. just signed up to subscribe to your blog, too, while I’m thinking of it!

  6. I never would have considered it either, Kat – until Krissy’s blog. And then I did think about it. Every animal I’ve had displayed numerous quirky traits.

  7. What a great post Karen! Thanks for sharing this. The unconditional love we share with our pets makes it easy to write about them

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed it Anthony, and I completely agree with you. In fact, my cat, thanks to his quirks, now has a minor roll in the screenplay I’m working on. The pet’s place in the story will eventually break open the hardened main character in a subtle way. Gotta love it. 🙂

  8. This post was all Krissy Brady. I think it’s a fabulous way to try out new characters. I’m glad she shared it with us.

  9. Well, I guess you’re in good company Krissy! The most well-known character of Chewbacca was based on George Lucas’ Malamute dog!

  10. Such a cool idea! Now I’ll be staring at my cats, instead of them at me 😉

  11. I like the idea. It’s interesting that we can learn from so many unexpected places if we just open our minds to it. Thanks!

  12. Bernadette Phipps Lincke

    What a cool post Krissy. Thanks for the inspiration. I am looking at my three dogs in a whole new way. I read somewhere that the Tenniel drawings of animals in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were caricatures of certain politicians of the time, (Perhaps that’s why in Through The Looking Glass Lewis has the animals participate in a race that is circular and those obnoxious birds that judge the winners are so pompous). Cool blog site too. Adding it to my reading list.

  13. Bernadette – I too am thinking about animals in a whole new way. Astute and Interesting tie in with Alice in Wonderland – I never thought of it that way. Thanks for the “cool blog site.” Thanks for visiting!

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  15. Pingback: Use Your Friends and Family to Enrich Your Characters | Karen S. Elliott's Blog

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