Book Writing AdviceBook, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2019

165 Mannerisms That Will Bring Your Character to Life

You've likely heard the expression, "show, don't tell" when it comes to how to create a story and characters that readers will love. Unique traits, mannerisms, and characteristics play a large role in the process of showing who a character is and giving your reader clues about the character's personality without breaking the narration with writing that "tells" too much. So how do you use traits, mannerisms, and characteristics effectively? A lot of it has to do with simple observation.

The next time you are in a public place and can watch people without being noticed, try to find some traits, mannerisms, and characteristics that set them apart from each other. For example, if you see a couple talking and their arms are around each other lovingly, that immediately tells you about their relationship (that it's close). Alternately, if you see a couple and one has his/her arms crossed and won't make eye contact, that is a show of discomfort in the relationship. You can read all of these things simply by watching someone.

In the same sense, if you want to create a character who has social anxiety, instead of telling your readers about the issue, show them instead. Have your character stand in a corner at a party and look uncomfortable. Have him/her imbibing alcohol at a social event to try to feel more relaxed and comfortable around so many people. There are so many traits, mannerisms, and characteristics you can use to relay intimate details about your character without telling your reader more than you should.

With that in mind, here is a list of over 600 character traits and quirks to help you build characterization in your novel.

Convincing mannerisms help bring your characters to life on the page.
Convincing mannerisms help bring your characters to life on the page. Photo by Fernanda Marin on Unsplash.

Someone who is lying or not telling the whole truth

  1. Blinks often
  2. Looks to the left often
  3. Changes tone of voice at odd points
  4. Pauses while speaking a lot
  5. Offers unnecessary details
  6. Rubbing nose
  7. Pointing a finger
  8. Body language doesn't match words spoken
  9. Sweats excessively
  10. Touches nose a lot

Someone who is scared, angry, nervous and/or has social anxiety

  1. Clenches jaw
  2. Swallows constantly
  3. Compulsively scratches nose
  4. Compulsively scratches nape of neck
  5. Arms crossed defensively
  6. Crosses arms while holding elbows
  7. Chain smokes
  8. Wear a sweater/jacket/coat at all times
  9. Chews on lips
  10. Chews on fingernails
  11. Can't eat around a stranger
  12. Always carries a gun
  13. Locked ankles
  14. Hands clasped behind back
  15. Constantly swallowing
  16. Nostrils flare
  17. Eyes that dart around a lot
  18. Flexing fingers
  19. Knees knocking
  20. Picks at cuticles and skin around the fingernails
  21. Paces back and forth
  22. Breathes heavily

Someone who is in love

  1. Whistles while walking
  2. Smiles a lot
  3. Holds significant other close
  4. Displays physical affection often with another
  5. Blushes a lot
  6. Fluttering eyelids
  7. Whispers into another's ear often
  8. Prolonged eye contact
  9. Wipes clammy hands
  10. Oblivious to everyone except one person
  11. Twirls hair absentmindedly while speaking to their beloved
  12. Is sleepless
  13. Loses appetite
  14. Enjoys sappy love songs played on the radio
  15. Wants to meet friends and family
  16. Calls their beloved first when there's bad news
  17. Constantly checks phone

Someone who is a musician

  1. Beats on surfaces with hands and/or fingers
  2. Talks about obscure music artists
  3. Seems to "zone out" when music is playing
  4. Points out when a song is off-key
  5. Closes eyes briefly when music is heard
  6. Hums/sings to self often
  7. Stops to listen to all street musicians

Someone who is confident

  1. Holds eye contact when interacting
  2. Walks with erect posture
  3. Walks with purpose while looking forward
  4. Keeps shoulders back and down
  5. Stands with feet apart
  6. Stands too close to others
  7. Has a hero complex
  8. Talks loudly
  9. Wears bright red lipstick
  10. Wears vivid, loud colors
  11. Hands clasped behind head
  12. Cracking knuckles
  13. Interrupts others when passionate about the topic
  14. Stands out among a crowd
  15. Remains sober at parties

Someone who is shy and/or lacking confidence

  1. Looks down when walking
  2. Wears hats consistently
  3. Wears headphones or hats often
  4. Cannot maintain eye contact
  5. Stands with feet together
  6. Hugs arms around himself/herself
  7. Avoids looking at self in the mirror
  8. Keeps hands in pockets while walking/sitting
  9. Hates sitting near a stranger
  10. Apologizes often
  11. Wears sleeves long with thumb holes to cover lower part of palm
  12. Wears a scarf often
  13. Pats/fixes hair constantly
  14. Clears throat a lot
  15. Mumbles
  16. Speaks softly
  17. Apologizes a lot
  18. Wears dark or muted colors
  19. Laughs to fill uncomfortable silences

Someone who is bored

  1. Yawns a lot
  2. Rests head in hands
  3. Stares in the distance
  4. Taps fingernails on surface
  5. Rolls eyes
  6. Clasps and unclasps fingers together
  7. Plays with index finger
  8. Toys with rings
  9. Picks at nails
  10. Foot kicking slightly
  11. Doodles absentmindedly
  12. Twiddling thumbs

Someone who enjoys humor

  1. Wears multiple pins with odd sayings
  2. Laughs a lot
  3. Tells jokes to anyone who will listen
  4. Has oddball sayings
  5. Never dresses to fit the occasion
  6. Wears clothing with cartoon figures
  7. Wears clothing with sarcastic sayings
  8. Grins sideways
  9. Punches people in their arm (jokingly) to get them to lighten up

Someone who is narcissistic, elitist, and/or materialistic

  1. Looks at self in mirror often
  2. Refuses to eat non-gourmet food
  3. Always has perfectly manicured nails
  4. Wears expensive name-brand clothing/shoes
  5. Shows off expensive jewelry
  6. Tells everyone how much he/she paid for something
  7. Loudly points out faults in others
  8. Never says "please" or "thank you"
  9. Is disrespectful to waiters/waitresses
  10. Waits for someone else to do simple tasks instead of doing it himself/herself
  11. Raises eyebrow often while others are talking
  12. Tosses hair
  13. Takes a lot of selfies

Someone who is uptight and/or stern

  1. Wears hair in a tight bun
  2. Pinches lips together tightly
  3. Looks down nose at everyone
  4. Crosses legs while sitting
  5. Rarely smiles
  6. Only drinks gourmet tea for a caffeine fix
  7. Stands with hands on hips

Someone who is erudite

  1. Quotes famous people
  2. Quotes well-known literary works
  3. Over enunciates
  4. Smokes a pipe
  5. Uses phrases like "did you know that?"
  6. Drinks brandy out of a snifter
  7. Wears a cravat
  8. Takes glasses off and cleans them
  9. Speaks multiple languages
  10. Scoffs under breath about things taking place

Someone who is organized and/or focused

  1. Tilts head to the side when listening
  2. Is wide-eyed and intense
  3. Moves quickly from one task to another
  4. Makes multiple to-do lists
  5. Wears perfectly coordinated clothing
  6. Looks at watch often
  7. Steeples hands
  8. Rocking back and forth on heels

Someone who is disorganized and/or unfocused

  1. Has unkempt hair
  2. Is always late
  3. Wears mismatched clothing
  4. Wears clothing with stains
  5. Always loses track of time
  6. Scrambles around frantically
  7. Stares into the distance often

Someone who is frustrated

  1. Shakes head while looking upward
  2. Makes a "tsk" noise
  3. Rolls eyes
  4. Clenches fist
  5. Rolls eyes
  6. Exhales sharply
  7. Puts fingers to forehead while shaking head
  8. Draws in a deep breath and exhales slowly
  9. Says "ha!" in a sarcastic tone
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