Do Your Characters Have Quirks?

It’s been many years since I’ve seen this character on television, yet I can still hear his voice when I’m walking through the dessert section of the grocery store, “COOKIES!” Why? There were no expensive CGI effects on Sesame Street. You remember the Cookie Monster, because no other character is quite like him, he’s one of a kind. You can see a reflection of yourself in the Cookie Monster, because he’s obsessed with cookies, and everyone is obsessed with something.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger says, “I’ll be back,” in The Terminator (1984) you’re anticipating his next move. It’s an action movie, so you know that someone’s going to get killed, or something is going to be blown up. If you’ve watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban (2004), you remember Professor Snape saying, “Turn to page 394,” despite the fact he didn’t say it during an exciting scene. Allan Rickman developed a cadence for his character’s speech that was so unique, you can’t forget what he says.

Watching a B movie, the first thing you’ll notice, is there’s nothing about the characters that you can relate to, they’re just cardboard cutouts; constructed from layers of cliches. They don’t feel “real.” One science fiction movie I started to watch, began with a soldier who has gone rogue, he’s ignoring his commander’s orders to stand down. How many times have you seen that happen in a movie? A maniac has kidnapped a woman, and he’s acting exactly as you’d expect a maniac to behave, wild eyes, screaming, making threats, etc. What’s unusual, or memorable about these characters? Nothing.

As you’re writing, think about whether the movie that’s showing on the movie screen in your head is a B movie. Do your characters have any traits that will make them memorable? Consider Saving Private Ryan (1998); all the characters are wearing uniforms, so they aren’t distinguished by their clothing. but each one has a distinct personality that makes them feel like real individuals. And that’s what draws you in, it allows you to wonder what it would be like, to be in their situation. Likewise, if Captain Jean Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) feels like a real person, then you can imagine what it might be like commanding a starship.

There are endless options when developing characters; age, gender, height, clothing, speech (cadence, accent, slang), occupation, food preferences, where they were born, where they’ve lived, there hopes and dreams, who they’ve loved, how they voted…. Throw in time travel and things get really interesting; he was born in 21st Century, but has been sent back to live in the 17th Century. If you’re writing science fiction, you’ll have to stretch your imagination to make an alien character stand out from other aliens!

The reason you can create unique characters, is because you are a unique human being with a unique imagination. You hear people say, there was only one Steve Jobs, or there was only one Jimmy Hendrix, and that’s true, but there is also, only one you. Keep writing!

Copyright © 2022 by J. Paul Cooper


Who Knows You’re A Writer?

Since you talk about it, your friends, family, and co-workers know that you’re a writer. If someone asked any of them, they’d say it’s your hobby. For many writers, however, it’s more than a hobby, it’s a passion, it’s who they are. So, how do you make the point that you’re serious about the craft of writing, and reach people that can help you develop a career?

Submit Your Work: This may seem like an obvious step to take, but it can be frightening, especially for beginning writers. You may have written a literary masterpiece, but no one will know will recognize your talent, unless they can read it. It’s possible to spend years on a novel, constantly making changes, and never submit it to a publisher, or self-publish it. It’s true that if you never make your writing public, no one can criticize it, but it also means no one can appreciate it.

Join A Writing Organization: Many writing organizations have member pages, where you can include a photo, a brief bio, items that you’ve had published (or self-published), and information about the types of writing you’re interested in. Recently, after someone saw my profile on a writing organization’s website, I was invited to be a guest author on a television show about writing. It will be aired later this fall on a community television station; so only few people will see it, but it does demonstrate how having a profile can be effective.

Look For Unusual Opportunities: Two of the most unique writing opportunities I’ve come across have involved coffee and beer. The first involved short stories being published on cardboard coffee cup sleeves, the ones they put on cups to protect your hands from the heat. The second one involved a brewing company, they were looking for short plays (54 words) to print on their beer cans. In both cases, the author’s name was included, so potentially thousands of people would see the names of the winning writers.

Start Blogging: If you’ve been reading blogs by writers, now’s the time to join us, and share your passion for, and knowledge of writing with everyone. You’ll never know what your potential is, or who will read your blogs, until you get started.

Note: I was profiled in the “A Day in the Life” section of the Calgary Guardian ( on October 26th. I also finished writing a feature-length screenplay and entered it in a competition.

Copyright © 2022 by J. Paul Cooper