Habits — the good and the bad… and sometimes plain ugly — can add spice to any character, making them complex and flawed. Habits are routine behaviors that occur repeatedly and can happen on a subconscious level. So what habits do your characters have? Are they good or bad?
Some habits only appear when a person is put in situations that illicit certain emotions such a stress, nervousness, fear, anger, etc. Nail biting, stammering, snapping fingers, among others — these can all be habits displayed when a character is put in stressful situations. One of my characters bites his lips or interior mouth, often to the point he draws blood; however, these little ticks do not necessarily have to have painful side-effects. They will also enable you to show readers your characters’ emotions without resulting to: The avalanche frightened Sue Bob.
Beyond situational habits, some characters might develop good habits. Habits like always having to have things in place; however, perhaps, this habit leans more toward OCD, which can come into play during the story. Other good habits might include always putting money away in the bank each paycheck, having certain religious habits like praying everyday at a certain time of the day, exercising regularly, having a superstitious routine they complete before leaving the home, etc. While some of these might not be necessarily good, they are benign — they also add another side to a character. Characters with multiple habits that stem from things like superstitions can have layers.
Formed habits can also tell a story about your character’s past, especially if they were developed during hard times like during a war, famine or while bouncing from house to house in the foster system. Really think about any traumatic past experiences your character might have endured and consider if perhaps the experience has carried over in the form of habits — they can be small little things.
Of course, characters can also have bad habits that can make them their own worse enemies, such as with drug use, drinking too much alcohol, etc. However, it is important to note there is a line between bad habits and addictions/mental illnesses. With bad habits, the person has more willpower than with addictions; they are aware that their actions are bad but they just choose not to stop, while addictions/metal illness do not always have the willpower to stop on their own. Bad habits, while they can be extreme to the point they are life destroying, can also be small things like overspending occasionally, picking one’s nose or procrastinating.
You can have a character who for the most part has their life together, yet is constantly shooting themselves in the foot by gambling or overspending — it could get to the point that their life is in shambles. I find bad habits like these add great depth to characters, but then again, I’ve never been a fan of the perfect protagonist — sorry Superman, I’m a Batman fangirl.
So consider adding some habits, whether good or bad, to your characters — they will only add spice and depth, further shaping them so they feel more real to the reader.