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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Character Mannerisms

Character Mannerisms

Whether it’s a matter of consciously choosing them, or visualizing my characters and letting them naturally develop, I try to give each of my characters specific mannerisms that belong to them alone. I usually give them more than one, because most of us have more than one habitual thing that we do, and I work hard at making sure characters in different manuscripts aren’t too similar.
So, Evie blushes and wrings her hands, but Ann bites her nails and paces (and swears), while Miri chews on her lips and draws with ink on her arms. Verity – well, Verity is one character of mine who doesn’t seem to have a nervous tic. She just blurts out what she’s thinking without any regard to tact. She used to burst into tears at emotional situations, until one of my crit partners pointed out that being a crybaby didn’t fit the rest of her character. So I turned off the waterworks unless they were really called for. Hodge tends to wipe his hand across his face and cast a rolling glance around the room, as if looking for a quick exit, while Mick rubs the back of his neck or scratches the back of his head when perplexed.
Minor characters don’t escape, either. Tesla twiddles a pencil between his fingers; Dr. VanBerk obsessively rearranges knick-knacks by size, and Viola always has her nose in a Kindle. None of my characters has an actual facial tic – but now that I’m thinking about it, perhaps I’ll give one to somebody!
How about your characters? What mannerisms do they have? How do you make sure we can visualize your fictional people, as well as hear their dialogue, listen to their thoughts, and understand their actions?

10 Responses to Character Mannerisms

  1. Sarah says:

    I do give my characters mannerisms but try not to have them do stuff too much or it feels redundant. And it’s so funny you mention the crying thing–I’ve written a few characters who cried too much, and once it was pointed out to me, I’ve become much more sensitive to it as I beta read.

  2. Linda G. says:

    One of my characters is known to nibble a fingernail or two when under stress, and sticks out her tongue at someone when the occasion warrants. But, like Sarah said, I try not to overdo it. Don’t want my readers saying, “Seriously? Again?”

  3. Oh, yes. Mannerisms should not be overdone — no more than descriptions and verbs. I RECOIL in horror at the thought! LOL!

  4. E. Arroyo says:

    This is great. I use composites for my characters, usually my kids (LOL)and didn’t really think about giving them one, it just happened. But I like this mindset and will go back to my ms and have fun with it. Thanks,

  5. Lenny Lee* says:

    hi miss dianne!
    yikes! you got my sister in your book and got her called verity. ha ha. i didnt ever think on that mannerism stuff but i could see it could be a help in showing more about a character. for sure im gonna try it on my story im doing now and i already got some good ideas.
    …hugs from lenny

  6. Haha, I have a character that cries too much. She’ll cry less in draft 3 🙂

    For my characters – I have a compulsive bangs-smoother, and a invade-your-personal-space-by-touching-you-whilst-talking-to-you queen bee 🙂

  7. Becca says:

    My characters generally develop their mannerisms as the story progresses. That’s how I made one into a logical guy when he’s nervous, and another likes using big words.

  8. Great post. I have a character who whines a lot. It’s to the point that I’m annoyed with the character, so I’ll either get rid of her or see if I can get her to change.
    : )

  9. Talei says:

    Usually hand movements work for mine, but I try to mix it up a bit. Can’t have the characters being to samey-samey. 😉

    Really good post, you just reminded me to check for these whilst I’m editing right now. Cheers!

  10. A.G. Wright says:

    Mannerisms make our characters feel real. We’re always thinking of what they look like – what they like and don’t like – but I think some of us leave out mannerisms. Thanks for reminding us. Good post.