Character Mannerisms as Told by Mary Deal

Character Mannerisms

by

Mary Deal

In fleshing out the narrative of a story, writers need to describe mannerisms of the characters.  These gestures and habits help the reader know your story people and what makes them tick. The actions each character performs must be in accordance with the scene and their responses to it.

These seemingly innocent extras that the writer adds must be accurate. Readers, especially avid readers, know when something isn’t right as the plot moves along. A wrong point or description can stick in the readers mind and distract from their ability to suspend disbelief and to lose themselves in a story.

An example might be when you have your character making physical gestures. When they roll their eyes, make sure it fits what you having them doing. Neurolinguistics teaches that a person rolls their eyes to the left if telling a lie, also known as constructed (made up) information. So if your character is telling a lie, make sure you don’t say he rolled his eyes to the right, which is from where remembered (true) information is pulled in.

Instead of being so detailed, which necessitates accuracy, you might simply want to say something like:

“He rolled his eyes, looking disgusted, and then studied the papers again.”

That’s a simple sentence that not only provides a good description of what is happening with the character at that moment, but also allows the reader to feel the character’s emotion.

A different example is if you have a left-handed cop. You might assume all cops in your story are right-handed, but suppose you make your cop character different. To flesh out his actions, you might want to add something to the fact that in spite of being an awkward left-hander, he was an award winning sharp-shooter quicker than lightning with his left handed draw. His left hand draw was quicker than any of the right handed cops on the force.

To include something like this about the cop does not and perhaps should not all be added when the cop first enters the story. Defining actions and gestures such as these are parsed out throughout the story whenever a scene allows for them. Perhaps with the cop, he might be identified as a sharp-shooter early in the story. Deeper into the story when the scene dictates him drawing his service revolver quickly, the rest could be added. Breaking up the information like this adds cohesiveness to the telling of the tale. Readers will remember that he was a sharp-shooter and will feel the connectedness to this character.

As with psychological aspects such as rolling the eyes in one direction or another, or other physical gestures, these must be accurate or they should not be included if the writer is unsure about the legitimacy of the facts.

Keep your readers in mind at all times during the writing of a story. Know that readers have read enough stories to know when an author is weak in their research.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

About Mike Angley

Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force in 2007 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He held 13 different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Air Force Squadrons and a Wing. He is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. In his last assignment, he was Commander of OSI Region 8 with responsibility for all of Air Force Space Command. He’s fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”
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