...if we listen carefully enough, people will reveal themselves to us by the things they say. The same is true if we are attentive to the little things that people do - a gesture, a quirk, a habit.
I have since learned to pay attention to the ways people make their way through the world, to the ways that people speak without words. I notice the way Stephanie, a shy student of mine, shakes her foot like the tail of a rattlesnake when she's nervous. I notice the way Brock, a writer friend, fills in the silences by softly singing rock and roll lyrics, as if music is always playing in his head, just below the surface of any conversation and almost every thought.
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This is my area of weakness as a writer. Dialogue is a key component of our characterization - we know that. Idiosyncrasies are an equally important part of characterization. However, it's an area I pay little attention to in the real world. According to Ballenger, though, there is a wealth of good stuff to be had by paying attention to the behaviors of others.
I thought about this in regards to my own family.
When he's thinking about how to handle a situation or what to say to someone, my husband always moves his mouth in silent conversation, rehearsing what to say. But he has no idea he does it.
My oldest son subconsciously mimics the behaviors and attitudes of my husband.
My daughter has been a puppy for the last year and a half, paws up in every photograph.
My middle son says touche in response to everything and refuses to sleep without a fan blowing on him.
The familiar fiction writer's adage - "show don't tell" - applies to non-fiction writers, too. People, whether real or imagined, have much to show us, often unwitting revealed, not only in what they say, but in more subtle things: the disorder of a desk, the unearthly bounce of a long slide, the choreography of chairs (Ballenger).
What are some quirky habits you've added to enhance a character's personality?