Habits-Good or Bad?

Each and every one of us has habits, little mannerisms set us apart from everybody else.
Sometimes they are clear and obvious things that others recognize from a distance and can say; “Yep that’s her, I can tell just by the way she’s doing (fill in the blank).”

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Your habits can be as innocent as twirling your hair, tapping your fingers, pacing, humming, or tapping your feet. There so many, the list goes on. Sometimes habits irritate another person. My personal irritation is watching somebody bite their fingernails. Look, nothing grosses me out more, but I know that my finger tapping irritates my husband. So, it’s a give-and-take with us; he bites his nails and I tap my nails.

Mannerisms and habits can describe you in many ways. They can reveal that you’re nervous person or perhaps easily bored. Your “tells” may never be seen until you’re in a stressful situation and then act almost as a self-defense mechanism; we let our stress out with these little idiosyncrasies.
Take a look around you, do little bit of people watching and see what you find.

But, you know, it’s funny – people aren’t the only creatures that have mannerisms and habits. Have you ever stopped and noticed your animals actions?

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For instance I have three cats and each one of them has her own particular habit that they do. My little gray likes to find a furry blanket to curl up and then she start sucking on the fur. My long hair black-and-white one loves to sit in the middle of the doorway, not in & not out. No, she is right smack across the threshold, as if she can’t make a decision where she wants to go. And my oldest cat, who happens to be almost 18, refuses to drink water, unless it’s out of a running tap.

Even the animals out in the wild have their own particular habits. Some birds migrate to the same exact location every year without fail, without deviation. As a child, my parents would take us while the snow was still on the ground, to see the Canadian Geese that came by the hundreds to the lakes during their yearly migration. So you see, habits are not restricted to humans. Some are natural; cause from your heredity and others – who knows why we start with habits.

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As a writer I think it’s really important to bring your characters to life by giving them habits. They can be irritating, endearing, or unconscious but they need to be there. These mannerisms give your character more depth and help reader get to know them better. For instance Megan, in my Citrus Beach Mystery series is a pacer. When she gets nervous she paces and often irritates those around her by doing this. It’s these little things that let you begin to understand the character more.

So, as you sit there on a bench and people watch, try figure out what habits strangers show without realizing. Can some of those habits that you’re watching from other people be worked into your story?

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Give your character some life, give them some interest, and give them some habits.

There’s More to People Watching…

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Like the kitten watching the outside world through the window, most of us spend a fair amount of time “people watching”.  There is no lack of entertainment as we go throughout our day, as human beings, we seem to love drama.  Some like to be the center of drama, others like to watch from the side lines.

As a writer it is not only second nature to watch and take mental notes on the activities around us.  The question is always there in the back of our minds; how can I use this in my writing?

Simple things like watching a bird splash in the bird bath, or the way a strong wind can pick up a leaf and carry it on a journey can catch our attention and help set a scene in our minds. The way that people interact with each other receive special scrutiny, as every detail is filed away for future use.  The hand movements as someone talks, the tone of voice, the stance of those talking, any visual habits; these are all important for the writer to remember.

Detail take on special meanings for the writer as well.  Are they wearing winter or summer clothes?  Is the weather gloomy or sunny?  Is it a city location or the suburbs?  Are they angry or happy?  Is everyone included in the scene, or are there some who are more background characters. 

After observing for a while, writers may actually re-write the scene in their minds to fit the plot of the book they may be currently working on.  For some, a simple observation of a family outing in a park can turn into a page from a Where’s Waldo story.  That argument you’re having with your girlfriend?  There is no telling how that will play out on the pages of a writers manual script.  A mother dragging her child home when he doesn’t want to leave could easily be written as a kidnapping.  A young women kissing the man next to her on the park bench could be about an elicit affair between co-workers.  The grandmother pruning in her garden could be a women harvesting hemlock to kill off her husband for one too many nights of loud snoring.  Simple, everyday actions that are viewed through the eyes of a writer can take on a new meaning altogether.

So, just remember that person watching you from afar may not just be watching…they may be creating their next novel in their minds.