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Writing

How to Use Mannerisms to Create Distinctive Characters

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

Character mannerisms play an important role in making characters feel alive and three-dimensional. They help the reader understand their personality and motivations. That’s why one of the most vital writing skills that an author can possess is the ability to imbue their characters with unique, memorable mannerisms.

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What Are Character Mannerisms?

Character mannerisms are a character’s unconscious individual gestures, affectations, or other distinctive behavioral traits. These character quirks can be physical (like a character who constantly drums fingers on the table), vocal (like a character who mumbles), or have to do with a character’s personality (like a character with persistent anxiety). In fiction, characters’ mannerisms help make them feel like real people and reveal character truths on an involuntary, subconscious level.

How to Use Character Mannerisms in Your Writing

Nonfiction and fiction writers alike use character mannerisms to create distinct, instantly memorable characters. However, these mannerisms can also serve practical purposes in your writing, helping to convey essential information about your characters or story. Here are the ways that you can use character mannerisms in your writing:

  1. To convey self-image: You can learn a lot about fictional characters through their quirks, speech patterns, and personality traits. For instance, if one of your main characters enters a room with perfect posture and their head held high, readers might gather from their body language that they consider themselves to be proper, serious, or high-status. In this way, mannerisms are a way for a writer to adhere to the adage of “show, don’t tell” when it comes to character creation.
  2. To show character development: In the same way that a character’s little quirks can give us initial information about that character, the addition or disappearance of character traits can let us know when they’ve changed. If the same character who entered a room with perfect posture at the beginning of your novel or short story leaves with a slouch, we can surmise that the character has lost confidence. The changing of character habits can help us track a character’s development.
  3. To differentiate between characters: Each of your characters should have their own unique idiosyncrasies. Not only does that make it feel like the characters exist in real life, but it helps the reader tell the characters apart. Oftentimes, a reader will have an easier time remembering a character through their mannerisms than through their name or occupation.
  4. To reveal information: A character’s mannerisms can reveal information about the scene or the plot as a whole. Say one of your main character’s traits is that they do not make eye contact and can’t stop fidgeting when they’re lying. If we find ourselves in a pivotal scene and our protagonist’s eyes dart to the ground when he’s telling his wife that he’s been faithful, the reader immediately knows that he’s been cheating on her. Oftentimes, mannerisms are a much more artful and direct way of revealing information than simply having the character say it out loud.
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