One of the biggest things that distinguishes us as individuals is our habits. They may seem small, but the little mannerisms or behaviors we exhibit unconsciously really make us more unique and human. And the same is true for our characters. Though often overlooked, giving your characters habits will make them feel much more specific and realistic people.
There are many things that can be considered ‘habits’ that you could allow your characters to exhibit. Perhaps they unconsciously bite their nails or play with the split ends in their hair. Or maybe they crack their neck or roll their eyes too much. It could also relate to speech, perhaps there is a certain phrase that they overuse out of habit.
A habit can also apply to something broader as well. Maybe your character has a habit of being late or being self-destructive when things seem to be going well in their life. They could also make a habit of getting back together with their ex or being selfless to a fault. Or perhaps they laugh when they’re uncomfortable and cry when they’re happy. These may feel like broad character traits but if your character makes a habit of doing them then they could be considered a habit of theirs.
Oftentimes habits can be unconscious, but they can also be chosen as well. People can choose to make a habit out of certain behaviors because they think it will better them as people. For example, people can make a habit of working out more consistently or being kinder to themselves. They can even attempt to replace bad habits with good ones. So let’s say they have previously had a habit of being selfless to a fault. Perhaps they make a goal for themselves to catch themselves when they do that and to try to consider their own feelings more frequently.
Writing Prompt: Either choose a character from your manuscript or invent one for this exercise. Make a list of five habits that your character has, they can be mannerisms or consistent broad behaviors. Now put your character in a scene, it could be anywhere with anyone. Your challenge is to write out the scene and allow the purpose of the scene to play out while also making your character’s habits clear. Their habits cannot be the subject of the scene in this exercise, you must show the reader the habits without making them the centerpiece of the scene.