Definition: deviating from conventional or accepted usage or conduct, especially in odd or whimsical ways
Causes: a sense of entitlement (having earned the right to act however one wants), a lack of concern for what others think, a desire to break free from an overly strict or regimented past, growing up in an environment that held little respect for conventionality, dementia
Characters in Literature: Willy Wonka, Merlin, Miss Havisham (Great Expectations)
Positives: Eccentrics usually fall into one of two categories: those who choose to act eccentrically (because they can get away with it or because they want to thumb their nose at conventionality) and those who are compelled to do so (the mentally deficient). Either way, Eccentrics don't live by the rules and no one expects them to, so they are free to do pretty much what they want. They can get away with things that others can't, which is a nice little tool in the writer's arsenal. Because they are easily stereotyped, they are often underestimated or overlooked by society at large.
Negatives: Whatever the cause, Eccentrics are not often respected by their peers and can be misunderstood. Everyone has something (knowledge, love, time, passion) to offer, but the gifts of an Eccentric are not often sought out or graciously received. They live on the outskirts of community and fellowship and are often alone. Because of their strangeness, Eccentrics make convenient scapegoats.
Common Portrayals: millionnaires, geniuses, the elderly, celebrities, the mentally-challenged
Cliches to Avoid: the gajillionnaire who does whatever he wants because his money and his lawyers will get him out of any fix, old ladies with too many cats, hermits living on the outskirts of town, the eccentric mentor archetype
Twists on the Traditional Eccentric:
- Eccentrics are almost always old. Why not create an eccentric child or teen with mental faculties fully intact?
- What about an Eccentric who is admired by society? Instead of people dismissing his oddities, they emulate them and make them part of the culture.
- Eccentrics in literature are often secondary characters. Why not make your main character the odd duck?
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Eccentric unique or more interesting: apologetic, affectionate, happy, responsible, naive, proper