Tag Archives: Mannerisms

Ticks, Quirks, and Traits..oh my!

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.)

Woman Biting Lip --- Image by © Jupiterimages/Brand X/Corbis

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.

Businesswoman looking away and twisting hair

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.

Crazy.

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.

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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…..

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Characters into real People, Part 3

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.

 

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