Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Who Does Your Eyebrows?

Monster Child was watching me pluck my eyebrows the other day.
"Why do you that?" She asked.
I said, "So I don't look like a neanderthal."
"What's a neanderthal?"

After the discussion of cave men and dinosaurs, I thought about eyebrows, and how we use them in our work.

I'm sure you all have read at least one book where the hero 'quirks his eyebrow'. Or the heroine raises hers. Or someone knits them together.

I must confess I have used all three. In my latest book, each one of the major players does. But only once.

And therein lies my post for the day. Each of our characters are special to us. They become like family and with family we all have our own little quirky things that we do. Sometimes they drive other people nuts. Sometimes, they can be downright endearing.

When Monster Child was a baby she used to grab the bottom of my earlobe when she was feeding. (Very endearing and I miss it.) Now she sticks her cold feet down my bum before she goes to sleep. (Family bed, big mistake and not so endearing anymore.)

Genna in REMEMBERING YOU used to make this noise. I call it a snort, but it's not really. It's that noise in the back of your throat you make when someone does something incredibly stupid, yet funny at the same time. (We watch America's Funniest Videos every Sunday night so I am forever making that noise.)

Dr. Blakestock (in MisMATCHED) wipes his spectacles before he says something of importance. Lady Olivia (in MASQUERADE) thumps her cane on the floor to make people pay attention to her.

The key is to use them sparingly. If your hero is quirking his eyebrows on every other page we might think he has some kind of neurological disorder. If he rakes his hands through his hair during every chapter, I would think he needs a good shampoo. If your heroine dabs her eyes with a hankie more than twice, well, I think she should see an optition.

Don't get me wrong, character quirks are great to use but I recommend doing so only when it will really make a point. Otherwise it gets wasted, and the next time they do it, the reader will be saying, "Oh will you stop with the eyebrow already!"

Do you use character quirks? If so, what are they?


Laura Pauling said...

For me, it's probably something different with every story. Eyebrows, looks, glances - and then I go through and change them all!

Anne Gallagher said...

Laura -- Funny now that I've read my post, I really have to change my character quirks. They're so cliche. Yikes.

jbchicoine said...

I have to admit, I do so like some good eye-rolling--oh, and there is that shurugging thing...and wait, there's that thing she does with her hair...oh, and let's not forget the getting blotchy, the peering over the glasses and, and yes, the running of said hand through one's own hair.

Not a lot of eyebrow activity, but I do so like a good 'bridge of his nose disappearing into an ominous hedge of eyebrow!'

Christine Danek said...

I do have a lot of squinting (which I can't stand, but for some reason use it constantly.)It drives me nuts. Eyebrow activity is making an appearance as well. Very true to use sparingly

Mac said...


Matthew Rush said...

Ah the eyebrows ... the windows to the soul. Er, wait ...

Anne Gallagher said...

Bridget -- Oh, the eye rolling. I told myself about the eyebrows but not the rolling. Gotta go in and see where it is.

Christine -- Maybe the squinting means she needs to put on sunglasses? OR maybe you do?

Mac -- It was coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Matt -- LOL. Sometimes they just might be.

Katie Mills said...

cocking eyebrows is my weakness. Furrowed comes in second place though. lol.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm guilty of all of them. I try to mix things around and use other expressions, but there's still a lot of them. Groan.

Em-Musing said...

Lord! I never thought about my character's eyebrows. Hmm? I'm going to have to check what traits she does have.

Bish Denham said...

Good points Anne. (With the image of raking hands through the hair...I picture leaves! Ha!)

Anne Gallagher said...

Katie -- Ooooh, I never thought of furrowed. Good one.

Stina -- and I'm trying to find them to see what else I can show and not tell.

Em- -- Maybe you've written her perfect as she is.

Bish -- Leaves! You're too funny.

Lynn said...

I have never had a character pop up an eyebrow. But I like it! And I do get irritated when a read a character who does anything with his/her hair every time there is an emotional reaction. Grrr...good points!

She Writes said...

I always like a little quirk and a little brow :).

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i do use them, and i'm sure you saw quite a few in my WIP. I plan on pruning some and zazzing up the others in my next read-through

Bossy Betty said...

I agree with you! When authors overuse character quirks it becomes annoying.

P.S. Betty's Beauty Hint: I just have one long eyebrow now and it makes it much easier to maintain my good looks.

Les Edgerton said...

Good post, Anne! However, as a recovering make-up artist and hair designer, I need to correct you. You "pluck" chickens; you tweeze eyebrows...

Other than that, this rocks!

VR Barkowski said...

I've only done it unintentionally. I mean, really, if my protag had "ran his hand through his tangled curls" that many times, he'd be bald! I cull the physical quirks out in the rewrites. For some reason, personality quirks work better for me than physical quirks.

Anne Gallagher said...

Lynn -- That's the hardest thing. We can 'see' them doing it. Which is why it usually goes into the book.

Amy -- A little quirk, a little brow, but just a little, goes a long way.

Sarah -- actually, no, not so much. Just leave the best ones in for emphasis.

Betty -- Oh you beast you! LOLOL

Les -- my apologies, you are so very right.

Viva -- Yeah, I've got to add more personality quirks in mine I think.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Quirks are great character features, but used too often they can distract. I forget what novel I was reading once, maybe a trashy beach read, but all the characters kept 'furrowing their eyebrows' when confounded or frustrated. I could have turned it into a good drinking game!

Great post, Anne! Hope all's well with you :))

Clarissa Draper said...

I used to have my characters roll their eyes a lot until a reader pointed out how annoying it was to read. I think it's an interesting thing to add to a story but it doesn't have to be thrown in our reader's face every page.

E. Elle said...

Absolutely. My characters are people, aren't they? In one story, my leading man rambles when he's nervous. In another story, my female character twirls her hair around her finger. Perhaps I should include cold feet in the bum at some point. ;o)

Anne Gallagher said...

Nicole -- Hey, that's a great idea for a drinking game at the beach!

Clarissa -- Just once to make a point is all that's really required I think.

E. -- That would be fun, cold feet in the bum! I'd love to see it in print!

Lydia K said...

I love character quirks! I'm working on making some good ones in my WIP.

The Words Crafter said...

Are they really cliche? Because they're very normal. I raise my eyebrow all the time and the kids in my class know that it means straighten up, lol.

One of my mc's raises her chin in quiet defiance. When someone says she can't our shouldn't, she's deciding to show them that she can and will. Thanks for the advice, because I know it's in there a few times, yikes!

Anne Gallagher said...

Lydia -- Good ones do make a difference!

Becky -- I use my own eyebrow as well, but it never works on Monster Child.

Although I like your mc's chin -- quiet defiance. That's a lovely turn of phrase. I think it may all right once or twice but not on every other page.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Both of my kids would hold my ear, too! *sigh* This whole post cracked me up, especially the guy who needs a good shampoo :)

Jacqueline Howett said...

I have never used eyebrows to make a point, but now maybe I will consider it. I did have a character I actually knew twitch his ears back and forth, like something you might see on Star Trek, but my story wasn't Star Trek material, just an average human being and so an editor did'nt believe that was possible and wanted to erase it, but I kept it in knowing it was true.

Your (child) reminded me of me, telling my Mum as a child, why do you use hot water to wash your face, why don't you use cold water? She simply answered; I want to use hot, that's why.

Her simple answer shut me up.

Renae said...

I am so guilty of this! So much so that when I go through and revise I have to specifically look for character quirks and make sure they are not overdone.

Great post!

Rula Sinara said...

Great post. Quirks make our characters real. We all have them. I know my kids like to immitate my hand gestures when I talk.

Patti said...

I think, like you said, the key is to use them sparingly. My character tends to bit her lip, probably too much.

Eric W. Trant said...

Oh, I LOVE quirks, both in writing and in reality. I pay attention, like any good writer should, to those around me, and make note of strange habits.

Here are some from my wife. I've already used a couple in stories:

o The only soda she'll drink is a Coke, non-diet

o Sweaty palms

o Closes her eyes when we take a picture because she is terrified of the flash. Don't believe me? Check this link: Mandy's Closed Eyes

o Uses garlic on everything

o Prepares even a simple sandwich like she's a professional chef (she was a restaurant manager and waitress for many years)

Yes, I love my quirky characters, so much so that I married one.

- Eric

Anne Gallagher said...

Sherrie -- Thanks. Sometimes I think, especially reading my genre, they really might need a shampoo.

Jacquline -- My mother can twitch her ears too. But I would never think of using it. Well, maybe now I will.

Renae -- It hink that's the key. Use them sparingly.

Rula -- Monster Child does too. Makes me wonder if I'm really Italian.

Patti -- Hmmm. Biting a lip is one I've never thought of before. Might have to use that someday.

Eric -- Your wife sounds like me. Regular Coke, garlic, restaurant manager. Although my hands are always cold, and even tho there are not that many pics of me, I do have my eyes open. How's the baby?

Eric W. Trant said...

Baby is doing great. He's almost but not quite sleeping through the night.

He's just about learning how to laugh. Funny that we learn to cry first.

- Eric

Ann Best said...

I use such character quirks sparingly. It makes for stronger writing to focus on what the characters say and what they do. I've read where readers don't remember much physical description anyway. I know I don't, and if it doesn't add to the story or the character, it annoys me.

I love this post. Your "monster baby" is delightful, and a goldmine, I suspect, for stories.

Anne Gallagher said...

Eric -- Thanks so much for the update. I miss having a baby around the house, even for all the crying. And when they do laugh, the angels sing.

Ann -- I don't use much physical description either. I like to let the readers imagination take that.

Monster Baby is going to star in her own story some day, way off in the distant future.

Shalet Jimmy said...

Good heavens...I never thought eyebrows can impart various meanings....

Donna Hole said...

My MC Cal has a quirk of chewing on a callus on his finger. Even when there isn't one. He does this sparingly - only when deep in thought or off the wall nervous.

there are some cliche's you can't avoid, but I'm with you on using them sparingly. (hmm, I said that twice. I think its bedtime.)

Very insightful Anne.

Have a great weekend.