I had fun talking about character mannerisms the other day, so today I’m going to go a little more in-depth into the differences in mannerisms ( which has a sort of positive connotation) and ticks, quirks and traits ( which lean more to the negative side of the mannerism scale.)
We’ve all known someone who had an annoying habit – like chewing gum incessantly while talking, eating, etc – or has a little quirky laugh after every sentence. I personally know someone who purses their lips at the end of every sentence. I always want to ask, “Did you want a kiss for saying that?” But luckily have refrained from doing so. And every one of us has at least one person ( usually a teen or 20-something) in our lives who use the words “like, um, ya know” without end.
These little individual ticks quirks, traits and habits make the people in our world three dimensional and real, because, lets face it, they are! When you read a character like this, you believe them more because you can actually see their behavior coming to life on the page. Where this gets frustrating and absolutely annoying for the reader, is when the habit is mentioned every time the character is on stage.
I read a book recently that everyone who read it said was great. Good characters, great plot, sound ending. I hated it. Why? The main character was so flat and one dimensional I couldn’t get passed it. Plus, she had two character ticks that were mentioned every single time she was on scene – and that was almost in every scene of the book. She bit her bottom lip and opened her eyes wide when she was nervous ( which was the whole damn book!) Mentioning it once or even twice seemed more than enough, but every frickin’ scene? The part that really tans my hide is that this book got published by a major house.
So, enough ranting. The way to make your characters as believable and likable as possible is to make them seem real to the reader. We all agree on that, yes? It’s up to us, the writers, to decide whether to give the characters positive quirks or negative ones.
Examples always work best for me, so here goes: ( and these are just some that I thought of. You could fill a book with all of them, truly.)
Negative habits, ticks, quirks: nail biting, lip pursing, sighing, leg shaking, toe tapping, finger snapping, gum chewing or snapping, frequent eye rolls, smirking, twittering laugh, nervous laugh, whining, poor use of language, frequent cursing, profanity in place of proper English and word use, interrupting others while they are speaking, hair twirling . You get the picture…think up some more of your own.
Positive habits, ticks, quirks: frequent head nodding, intense smiling, frequent touching of the other person ( not in a sexual way), overly compassionate, cries at the drop of a pin, laughs at everything. Again, fill in your own here.
My point with this post was to get writers to recognize the things their characters do while on the page and to find that simple yet oh-so-hard balance of making them come to life for the reader. There is nothing that turns me off a book faster than one-dimensional characters, or those that are so over the top I can’t get vested in them because they are unbelievable to me as actual people.
It’s a fine line we ride as writers to make our characters as real as possible. Adding in individual mannerisms, etc, is a wonderful way to make the character pop to life. Too much of it though, is a reader turn off.
So ( you saw this coming, I know!), what are some positive and negative traits you’ve used for characters that worked, and which ones didn’t. Let’s discuss…..
10 responses to “Ticks, Quirks, and Traits..oh my!”
Great Post! I know I’ve gotten annoyed with characters that do too much of any irritation. There were several books I’ve read from acclaimed writers that threw me off with their characters. I try to mix it up a bit and not have my characters do the same thing every time. It makes writing more interesting, as well.
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Ilona – I feel the same way. I just want to know who the editors were of those books! I wonder did they just gloss over the repetitions or what?? frustrating to say the least. Thanks fo stopping by.
In Fairest of the Faire, Connie has a necklace her deceased husband gave her. She plays with it when she feels like she’s forgetting him. I think I mention it four times in the entire book, but it is integral to the final scene. I think these things make our characters much more human.
Susabelle ,4 times is nothing! that’s the right way to show the character’s makeup. I wasn’t kidding when I said the current book had almost he same mannerisms in every scene. The girl was a robot for me.
How many heroines bit their lower lips? ALL OF THEM. I’ve been determined about not using that cliche in any of my novels.
What an on-point post, Peggy – Thank you! These traits and quirks are what helps us (the reader) get to know and remember each character. The most fun I have as a writer is conjuring up quirks for my characters!
Lida – thanks for stopping by. I love coming up with different kinds of quirks too. Too many times we read books that have the same mannerisms for the characters in them. I think the best way to right fresh ones is to observe evry day people,which is why I am so nosey and such a people watcher.
Very interesting comments and so true. It’s a challenge not to get lured into overusing character traits.
Christine – yes, it is. A very hard course to travel to make things “fresh.”
Interesting points regarding fleshing characters out…but I think what’s more important than having real, fleshed-out characters is having consistent characters. When they’re fully realized, it’s nice, and it’s easier to fall in love with them; but some stories are still perfectly enjoyable with archetypal characters who remain consistent, like those in Star Wars. Han Solo is basically a scoundrel, and there isn’t much more to him than that, but he’s still a fun character, and still believable when he starts doing unexpected things like falling in love with Leia, because he loves like a scoundrel too. If he suddenly became an over-sentimental dope, his character would break like glass. That, to me, is a bigger sin than not fleshing a character out.
That said, it also breaks my heart when a character COULD have been fleshed out and fascinating, like the Penguin in Batman Returns, but instead is left one-dimensional and boring due to writer laziness. That pisses me off to no end.