Flaws, habits and idiosyncratic mannerisms. When you see these words do you immediately think of them as negative descriptions? You can, but you shouldn’t, because these are all facets of normal human behavior. And normal human behavior is what you want your characters to exhibit on the page. Unless of course you’re writing about lycans, vampires, or aliens from outer space that don’t exhibit normal human behavior. And even then, I’m sure those subspecies have their own foibles, et al, indicative of their own, well, species.
Every person is unique, as is every character you develop. One dimensional characters are not fun to read, they are boring. Very boring. Ever notice that in every fairy tale from Sleeping Beauty to Cinderella to Snow White we never get to know the handsome prince who saves our girl from witches, evil stepmothers, and evil stepmothers who are witches? That’s because the storytellers didn’t want the guys’s true natures made known, because they’re perfect. Boringly perfect. Rich – they’re all Princes, after all, of huge kingdoms – handsome – because non attractive guys could never get a girl – and brave – they all slay dragons and fight evil daily. Nothing ever happens after the words And they lived happily ever after. You never hear about the fact that Cinderella now had to cater to her Prince and clean his castle, substituting one kind of indentured servitude for another; or that Snow White’s guy actually liked apples and didn’t want any other fruit brought into the palace – much to her chagrin. Apple pies, apple tarts, apple butter yadayadyada. She couldn’t get away from them. And don’t get me stared on Sleeping Beauty’s guy and his unnatural predilection for dragons. No, these guys were all one dimensional. They basically had no substance, no occupation, other than to save our princess, so we never heard about them after they did. ( My apologies to the Grimm Brothers who are probably rolling over in their five hundred year old graves right about now.)
So far I’ve talked about dialogue and speech patterns to try and make your characters sound believable. Today, I’ll talk about how to show they’re believable, and this is through they’re behavior.
We all know people who have little habits that drive us crazy. Tooth picking, throat clearing, feet tapping, you name it. I have terrible habits of talking with my hands ( raised in an Irish/Sicilian household- go figure) and for interrupting people. The first is okay. The second is absolutely annoying to people and I know that in my heart and mind, but I’m damned if I can do anything about it. What can your characters do to distinguish themselves, habit-wise, when you write about them? It doesn’t have to an annoying habit, like mine. It can be that your heroine bites her bottom lip when she is nervous, or your alpha male hero dislikes – really dislikes – being told what to do, and flares his nostrils when he is pissed. ( Sounds a little dragon-like, doesn’t it??)
By flaws I don’t mean one eye is smaller than the other ( like me!) but character flaws. Little bits of behavior, thoughts, and actions that tell you this person is not perfect. Far from it. For instance, your heroine is basically a nice person and always volunteers to help others, but just this once she really wishes you wouldn’t ask her to drive the meals on wheels car just because you have a hot date and she doesn’t. Two flaws here by the way : a little jealousy ( she has a date, your character does not) and a little pettiness.
Idiosyncratic mannerisms are little actions particular to your individual characters that no one else in your story does. Again, I’ll use myself as an example. I check my watch. Often. Sometimes, every minute. This used to really annoy my father-in-law because he said it made it look like I had to be somewhere else and was just biding my time, and also that it was just plain rude. I totally agreed so I stopped wearing a watch. Now I check my phone. Often. Sometimes, every minute. My idiosyncrasy is time. I am consumed with it. No one else in my sphere is time obsessed like I am. I own that one. Does your character snort when he laughs? Does she play with her hair, unconsciously, all the time? These mannerisms can be used to define your character and give them depth.
And if a character has depth, they are believable, and believable characters come across as Real People.