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.

Takeaways:

  • 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.

 

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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.

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

  1. A perfect example! Flora & Ulysses is a favorite book in my house! Thank you for an inspiring post!

    Like

  2. Susan Schade says:

    Great example! Thank you for the post.

    Like

  3. khundscheid says:

    Ahhh…this book is still on my TBR list, but this post bumped it to the top. Thank you!

    Like

  4. Kristen C.S. says:

    I loved Flora and Ulysses! What a great mentor text to dissect. Thanks for digging in with us. =)

    Like

  5. This was a great example of how unusual/unexpected character traits adds humour. Thanks.

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  6. Alice Fulgione says:

    I absolutely have to read “Flora & Ulysses & I very much appreciate the fact that you took the time to share such a great example.

    Like

  7. Great examples! Thanks for pointing out how these touches of humor can be added to any type of story.

    Like

  8. I never seem to think about this, Laurie, at least not consciously. Thanks for writing about it.

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  9. megcason1 says:

    My daughter loved this book! Thank you for the tips!!

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  10. Wonderful tips and wonderful examples. Thanks for this post.

    Like

  11. I will be reading this book with new eyes now! And looking forward to reading your new work. Thanks for a great post.

    Like

  12. Mindy says:

    Thank you for such great insight and examples.

    Like

  13. Quirks make the best stories….no matter what age we are. Thank you for your great advice.

    Like

  14. Juliana Lee says:

    You can’t go wrong with ‘quirky’. Like many spices, a little goes a long way!

    Like

  15. I Just LOVE this post! Thank you, Laurie. Post it to self….unexpected character traits 😉

    Like

  16. Val McCammon says:

    Great ideas about the unexpected character traits that add another dimension. Thanks, Laurie.

    Like

  17. gail says:

    Thanks Laurie! I was just proofing my ms and saw a bit of humor in my character’s personality. I’m glad she has it. Heavy topics need a break every so often.

    Like

  18. Thank you, Laurie.Such great ideas for injecting humor into our stories.

    Like

  19. laura516 says:

    I stumble in my picture books trying to balance well-rounded, quirky characters with sparse language. But I know it is worth the effort! Thanks for highlighting this effective technique in a mentor text.

    Like

  20. yangmommy says:

    Great post!!

    Like

  21. donnacangelosi says:

    Wonderful post, Laurie! Such good ideas for sprinkling humor and quirkiness in our stories. Thank you!

    Like

  22. Thanks for this thought provoking post, Laurie!

    Like

  23. Gabi Snyder says:

    I love Kate DiCamillo, so I’ll have to check out Flora & Ulysses. Thanks for sharing these great suggestions for using unexpected character traits to add humor, Laurie. And I will check out Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. Sounds fabulous!

    Like

  24. Martin Segal says:

    Thanks for the great tips on injecting humor into our stories, Laurie! I’m already thinking how to apply this to mine!

    Like

  25. Barbara Senenman says:

    Great post. I’ve got to think about my characters to see if I had put in any of these quirks in that make it humorous. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading Flora and Ulysses last week. It’s still fresh in my head to think about it.

    Like

  26. Very interesting, and makes me think more critically about the texts I have languishing in my “needs revision” folder. Thanks for the push.

    Like

  27. carolofparis says:

    Great post! I think any of DiCamillo’s books are good mentor texts. 🙂 I like your unexpected traits ideas. I will go back and think about that more. Thank you

    Like

  28. Thanks for the great ideas and inspiration!

    Like

  29. Natalie Lynn Tanner says:

    The quirkier the the traits, the better, I say!!! I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree: we have to find a way to make our characters stand out and shine! THANK YOU for the WONDERFUL examples showing how to do so!

    Like

  30. Shirley Johnson says:

    Great ideas! Great information! Thank you.

    Like

  31. betsybcook says:

    Sounds like we should just go for it!! I like that a lot. I have yet to read this book but it’s on the list:)

    Like

  32. Lynn Alpert says:

    Flora & Ulysses is one of my favorite books! Those quirky characters are great inspiration.

    Like

  33. Sam Altmann says:

    What great advice!! The weirder and wackier, the better!

    Like

  34. Caroline says:

    Flora and Ulysses is such a great example of unusual character traits! Love this, and I’ve already started inspect one of my WIPs for traits. Thanks!

    Like

  35. Kate Giard says:

    What a fit! Quirk = Compelling! I like it! Thanks!

    Like

  36. Thank you, Laurie for the tips for the excellent ideas to add humor to any character.
    ~Suzy Leopold

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  37. Great post!! Already thinking of ways I can add compelling quirks to my characters!

    Like

  38. susanzonca says:

    Thank you from a very helpful post.

    Like

  39. Robyn McGrath says:

    Great post!

    Like

  40. judyrubin13 says:

    Thank you, Laurie, for sharing your character trait examples.

    Like

  41. gweddle says:

    Thank you for the great advice! These ideas sound like fun!

    Like

  42. Good advice! I’m off to brainstorm some quirky outrageous character traits. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    Like

  43. Doris Stone says:

    Thank you for all the advice on adding character traits. I’m learning so much!

    Like

  44. writeknit says:

    Great post – thank you for the opportunity to win as well as your encouragement to channel our zanny person inside. 🙂

    Like

  45. Kathy Levy says:

    Thanks so much! What a great post and lots to think about.

    Like

  46. Andi Osiek says:

    Great post and so much fun to apply to our writing. Thanks!

    Like

  47. Janet smart says:

    Great advice. I’m going to have to check out some of my stories and see if I can make them better using this advice.

    Like

  48. Great tips! I like the part about giving the characters unusual talents. Thanks!

    Like

  49. Tips for writing humor are always appreciated!

    Like

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