Monday, April 11, 2011

Idio's Influence

A-Z Blog Challenge: I
Post by Jenny

It’s Monday of a new week. Have you indulged in an idiosyncrasy yet? If not yet, I bet you will sometime soon. And so will I, for we all have them.

The word idiosyncrasy comes from the Greek roots idio, meaning ‘one’s own,’ and synkrasis, meaning ‘temperament or mix of personal characteristics.’ It was originally used in English as a medical term referring to the physical constitution of an individual. Now, the most common meaning is a quirk, an eccentricity, usually harmless and potentially controllable—though also potentially annoying. Food-related idiosyncrasies are common. Not letting different foods touch, finishing one food on the plate before moving on to the next, eating pizza crust-end first—I’m guessing you know someone who does something a bit unorthodox at mealtime.

Fictional detectives are often quite quirky, no doubt a consequence of their superior intellects. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, for example, maintained a bank balance of 444 pounds, 4 shillings, and 4 pence. Sherlock Holmes kept his tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper.

Another child of idio is idiom. An idiom is an expression that means something other than the literal definitions of its parts. It comes from the Greek idioma, ‘to make one’s own.’ Bend over backwards, hit the sack, let the cat out of the bag, and spitting image are all idioms. Idioms can help set a character in a particular time, culture, or place. “All mouth and trousers” and “All hat, no cattle” both describe someone who talks big but can’t deliver. One is an American idiom and the other is British. Even if you’re not familiar with the expressions, I bet you can tell which is which.

Idiosyncrasies and idioms can give a character a very unique and human quality. But use them sparingly, advises Gordian Plot: “Let the habits of your hero be whimsical, mysterious, or erratic, if you choose; but let them be agreeable and not too frequently reiterated.” Or run the risk, perhaps, of making your character seem a bit, well, idiotic.

Do you have a favorite idiosyncrasy or idiom? Have you ever used it in building a character?



Bob Scotney said...

Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs. That's a bit difficult in our bungalow, but I learnt something from your post.

M Pax said...

True. If a character does the same thing all the time, it gets annoying.

I have to check my email every morning. Or is it just a habit? Addictive habit? :)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Outstanding writerly "I" post, Jenny. Idiosyncrasies are very useful when creating secondary quirky characters in mysteries. All of my elderly ladies of the Florida Flippers travel club (The Desert Hedge Murders) had a different habit that helped the reader keep the characters straight.

Samantha McColl said...

I think idiosyncrasies are essential in developing characters. I agree, some are overused and a bit annoying but after all, idiosyncrasies are what set people apart. Individual characteristics and/or mannerisms are often imperative in telling a story. This literary tool not only gives the reader a better understanding of the character but also offers a more relatable/human side. In a lot of cases, these little idiosyncrasies end up playing a larger role in the story and can very often help bring a plot full circle.

Jenny said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I've found that I'm keeping a sharp eye out for idiosyncrasies this week. Wonder why :-)

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