Unexpected Character Traits Bring In The Funny by @lauriewallmark and GIVEAWAY

Whether your novel is humorous or serious, a bit of levity can add to a child’s reading enjoyment. Let your characters help you inject humor into the story, by giving them unexpected traits, such as:

  • unusual talents
  • competing personality features
  • a unique self-image
  • peculiar behaviors
  • idiosyncratic speaking patterns.  

Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses (Candlewick Press, 2013) is a mentor text on how to bring out the funny through the use of unexpected character traits.

Wallmark_FloraBookIn Flora and Ulysses, Ulysses has talents that are, shall we say, more than a little unusual. Though he’s only a squirrel, Ulysses can fly, type, and write poetry. As a reader, you certainly don’t expect to see a squirrel sitting at a typewriter, his bushy tale waving behind, let alone with his tiny “fingers” poised over the keyboard. The unexpectedness of such an unusual character is automatically funny.

Throughout the novel, Ulysses provides comedic moments through the juxtaposition of competing personality features—his human side and his base animal instincts. When Ulysses becomes frightened by the waitress at the doughnut shop, he tries to calm himself down, as a person would. But eventually, his innate squirrelness takes over, and he attempts to escape. The ensuing mayhem provides several laugh out loud moments, especially when he lands in the waitress’s huge hair. Your characters don’t have to be human-like animals to be funny. All you have to do is give your human characters contrasting personality traits that are at odds with each other.

The other main character, Flora, is humorous in a different way than Ulysses. In her case, it’s not that she has bizarre human talents, but rather she has a unique self-image for a child. She has branded herself as a cynic, so will let nothing about humans surprise her. Here again, the humor comes from the unexpected—a child with the world-weary views of a cynic. The combination of her adult-like cynicism with her childish companion, a doll in a shoebox, provides the same sort of juxtaposition humor as above.

Another secondary character, Flora’s friend William, has peculiar behaviors, in that he presents like a miniature adult, in both speech and action. The contrast between William’s actual and apparent age leads to humor. This type of character, with his unexpected behaviors, provides a perfect crucible to generate humorous situations.

A character’s idiosyncratic speaking patterns can help create a funny scene. In William’s case, his non-standard dialogue is taken to an extreme. While most children would say something like, “I scratched my knee,” not William. He has to elaborate and exaggerate every explanation with his own unexpected way of speaking. William’s over-explanations, so unchildlike, create a thread of humor that runs through the entire book.

Be brave. The more outrageous you are with your unexpected characterizations, the funnier it will be. In addition, it’s your characters’ quirks will endear them to your reader.


  • You can add humor to any novel by giving your characters unexpected traits.
  • You can apply this technique to any character, not just your main one.
  • The more outrageous the character trait, the funnier.



Laurie Wallmark writes picture books and middle-grades, poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing, Laurie teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College. Her debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and several national awards. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her next book, Dare and Do : The Story of Grace Hopper, Queen of Computer Code (Sterling Children’s Books) will be out Spring 2017.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Laurie’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Laurie is kindly giving away a signed copy of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. For a chance to win, please leave a comment below.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

184 comments on “Unexpected Character Traits Bring In The Funny by @lauriewallmark and GIVEAWAY

  1. Thanks for the reminder to let our quirky silly side shine through.


  2. Great ideas — thank you!


  3. bucklessclass says:

    I LOVE Flora and Ulysses and loved your examples as well. This was such a helpful post! 🙂


  4. Sandy Perlic says:

    Love the takeaways from this blog post! These are really good points to ponder, and to work into our stories. Thank you!


  5. Angela Turner says:

    I loved Flora and Ulysses. You have shown us great examples of adding humor. Thank you for such an informative post.


  6. Debbie Austin says:

    I loved Flora and Ulysses, too. Thanks for using it as a mentor text on adding humor. So good!


  7. Shelly says:

    Thank you for a really helpful post!


  8. Keila Dawson says:

    Thanks for the examples. Congrats on the reviews and the new foethcoming book.


  9. davidmcmullin1 says:

    Thank you, Laurie. Be brave is right. It’s not always that easy to take things over the edge.


  10. Ashley samson says:

    Love this post, such helpful advice! Thank you!


  11. Aimee Habujak says:

    Flora and Ulysses was a great book! Good choice in using it for your example in adding humor to the characters. Thanks


  12. Ryan Roberts says:

    good points!


  13. writersideup says:

    Laurie, I don’t think you could’ve picked a better book to bring out your excellent points 🙂 Kate DiCamillo is the queen of quirky, I’d say, when it comes to characters! Great post 🙂


  14. Kristen Browning says:

    Thanks for the great advice and strategies to try! Now I have to read Flora and Ulysses. I look forward to reading your upcoming book on Grace Hopper.


  15. Marge Gower says:

    I was working on a lesson last night and they said something similar. I wasn’t making my characters human enough. I’m coming up with some good ideas for fleshing them out. Thanks.


  16. Laurie L Young says:

    Flora and Ulysses is a brilliant book! Thanks for the brilliant suggestions!!


  17. rimna says:

    Thanks for the great advice.


  18. Kim Chaffee says:

    Thank you for this post. The unexpected can make for very humorous situations- always forget this one!


  19. Angela Dale says:

    More humorous = more interesting. Great combo. Thanks.


  20. Kirsten Bock says:

    Wonderful advice!


  21. Great take aways! Thanks, Laurie


  22. idzalg says:

    Thank you for this post, Laurie. It made me think of a specific manuscript I’ve been working on. Now I have some new strategies for “bringing in the funny.”


  23. csheer18 says:

    Great examples of the strategies you highlighted, Laurie! Now I’m off to see if I can apply any of these ways of “bringing out the funny” in an inanimate object as a character.
    Would LOVE to win the copy of your book!


  24. Juli Caveny says:

    Oops. Might have missed the 24hr mark…sometimes life happens! But I really appreciate this post today. The world is full of odd characters and unique personalities. Those kooky kids, like me, need to see themselves in books too!


  25. Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite authors! This is an excellent post. I enjoyed reading and thinking about how Kate used humor in her various characters in Flora and Ulysses. Thank you!


  26. Marianne Chalk says:

    Your thoughtful ideas are very helpful. Your generosity in sharing is greatly appreciated! And your time spent to assist others is a great gift. Thank you!


  27. Lauri Meyers says:

    Love your thoughts on adding these character traits. Sometimes they feel contrived if I try to force them, and I just have to wait for them to appear.


  28. Lotus Ivak says:

    This is great! Thank you for sharing Laurie!


  29. Jenifer says:

    Enjoyed your post, and you made me want to read Flora and Ulysses.


  30. Great post, Laurie. I need to move this book further up on my reading list!


  31. This is fabulous advice, thank you!


  32. I’ve never heard Ada’s story but am so intrigued by she-geniuses. I’m going to get this book for my brilliant nieces. Thank you for the ideas about character traits. Sometimes I have difficulty finding the balance between a character trait reading as humorous vs. as a cognitive or social challenge.


  33. angelcat2014 says:

    Thank you for the examples on how to make our characters unique from one another. Some great takeaways. 🙂


  34. Karen Leiby Belli says:

    Thank you , Laurie. Good ideas to share.


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