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?