The Difference Between Character Habits And Quirks

What exactly is the difference between behaviors, habits, mannerisms and quirks? Read on to learn the subtle (yet important) differences between them.
Author:
Publish date:

What exactly is the difference between character habits, behaviors, mannerisms and quirks? Read on to learn the subtle (yet important) differences between them and how to apply them to your characters.

The dictionary definitions overlap and vary which makes it unclear and difficult to understand, especially for new writers just testing their character creation toes in the water. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a habit as ‘a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up / an automatic reaction to a specific situation,’ and a quirk as ‘a peculiar behavioural habit.’

Image placeholder title

(11 Secrets to Writing an Effective Character Description.)

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a habit as ‘something you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it’ and a quirk as ‘an unusual trait or behavior, or something that is strange and unexpected.’

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly.

Image placeholder title

Click to continue.

The Difference Between Character Habits, Behaviors, and More

But what exactly is the difference between Behaviors, Habits, Mannerisms and Quirks? In my investigation into character quirks, I found there are subtle differences between them. Let’s first look at the dictionary meaning for each:

Behavior: Manner of acting or controlling yourself, (behavioral attributes) the way a person behaves toward other people
Foible: a behavioral attribute that is distinctive and peculiar to an individual
Habit: an automatic pattern of behaviour in reaction to a specific situation; may be inherited or acquired through frequent repetition: ‘she had a habit of twirling the ends of her hair’
Idiosyncrasy: A behavior or way of thinking that is characteristic of a person, a slight glitch, mannerism; something unusual about the manner or style of something or someone
Mannerism: A behavioural attribute that is distinctive and peculiar to an individual
Quirk: an individual peculiarity of character; mannerism or foible

Habits

Habits are matters of daily routine, things your character has done so often that they’ve become automatic and would be extremely hard to change. Habits may be unique to your character or may be common in your character’s community.

Looking both ways before crossing the street is a habit, though it’s so useful and universal that it’s likely to be unnoticeable (unless your character moves to the US from the UK and his neighbors notice that he looks right-left-right while they look left-right-left).

(Understanding the Minor Character's Role.)

Checking that all the doors are locked before going to sleep may be a deliberate precaution in a dangerous place and time. However, in a safe place and time it’s likely to be a habit peculiar to your character, showing either that she once lived in a dangerous place or that she suffers from obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

Finishing other people’s sentences is a not uncommon habit, but it may be highly noticeable and frustrating to people who aren’t accustomed to it.

When you take this online writing course, you will learn how to create believable fiction characters and construct scenes with emotional depth and range. Create characters readers will love and develop a strong point of view for your fiction book today!

Image placeholder title

Click to continue.

Quirks

Quirks are usually idiosyncratic (peculiar to the individual). And, they’re likely to seem odd to the people who interact with your character.

Maybe your character cultivates quirks for effect. Maybe they’ve become habitual, or they’re deeply rooted in his nature, and he can’t readily change them.

Those who interact with your character probably won’t be sure which sort of quirk they’re dealing with. Repeating the last few words of the other person’s sentence in a conversation may suggest involuntary mechanical and meaningless repetition of the words of another person, suspicion, or a strategy for getting time to craft a response.

Capping remarks with famous quotations may be a sign of an eager reader with a quickly-connecting mind, or of an ambitious person trying to demonstrate their knowledge.

Walking everywhere instead of driving or taking the Underground, even in bad weather, may suggest lack of money, or concern for the environment, or an extreme dedication to fitness, or simply a habit left over from a time when one of these forces was in effect.

You may find it easier to remember the difference between habits and quirks this way:

Quirks are actions or behavioural personality traits that are deliberate. In contrast, habits are actions or traits that are automatic.

(5 Writing Tips to Creating a Page Turner)

Bringing Characters to Life with Quirks and Habits

One of the hardest and most satisfying parts of writing is making your characters fully alive so your readers can recognize them, visualize them, believe in them and care about them.

Of course this requires careful use of story events, flashbacks, memories and dialogue. It’s also helpful to flesh characters out with distinctive quirks and habits.

Quirks and habits serve several purposes in fiction. Here are a few major uses:

  • Identifying Characters
  • Defining Character
  • Revealing Tension
  • Creating Conflict
  • Habits and Quirk Shifts

Adding Idiosyncratic Meat to Quirky Bones

When you create a new character or want to inject a little more life into an existing character, try adding habits and quirks. That can be anything from biting nails to picking toes to switching lights on and off.

My book, the A~Z Writers’ Character Quirks: A~ Z of Behaviors, Foibles, Habits, Mannerisms & Quirks for Writers to Create Fictional Characters, will help you to explore an alphabetical list of behaviour, foibles, habits, mannerisms and quirks for creating fictional characters.

Another way to find character habits and quirks is to watch people. Anywhere. Anytime. Riding the bus, on the train, in a café bar or airport. Go to a public place armed with a large newspaper and notepad and start watching what people do. Write their little quirks down and start making a quirky folder for using in your next writing project.

Good luck, enjoy creating weird and wonderful fictional people!

Poetic Forms

Rannaigecht Mor Gairit: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the rannaigecht mor gairit, a variant form of the rannaigecht.

Weinstein_1:21

The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.

Stottlemyre_1:21

Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.

plot_twist_story_prompts_take_a_trip_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.

Probst_1:20

Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.

Wrobel_1:20

Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.

who_are_the_inaugural_poets_for_united_states_presidents_robert_lee_brewer

Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.

precedent_vs_president_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.