Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Tics. Most of us know someone with a strange tic. A compulsive throat clearer comes to mind. Or the fingernail drummer. The face picker. The hummer. The head jerker. The eye twitcher.

Why do we have these strange and uncontrollable actions? What brings them on? And why are they next to impossible to get rid of?

I'm not recommending you give every character a tic. I'm not even recommending giving your main character a tic. But it might be fun to see how your protagonist reacts to someone close to him who has one.

What if the hero's sister has a permanent scab on her arm because she picks it every day. And she scratches it when she's nervous. When he sees her doing this, how does he feel? Does it make him feel sad? Maybe he remembers when it all started twenty years ago. The bully next door teased her about her frizzy hair and she began to pick at her arm whenever in his presence. Soon, it became a nervous habit. The hero wants to reassure her she's perfect the way she is, but he doesn't know how, so when she picks at the scab, he averts his eyes.

Or maybe it disgusts him? He can't understand why she can't control herself. For goodness sakes, her arm bleeds every day. Gross! His mouth clamps shut in a thin line and his fists bunch up when he sees that drop of blood trickling down her forearm. He has to physically stop himself from yelling at her or punching the wall. He has no idea why his reaction is so strong, and he doesn't want to delve into the why's. As a result, he avoids her.

How do your character's react to tics? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Writing!


  1. Interesting. I'd never thought of giving a character a permanent tic.
    btw, my toddler does this to his scabs. I have to put a band-aid over them when he's asleep, otherwise he'll even pull the band-aid off.

  2. Love that picture of the dachshund!

    I love the idea of giving characters nervous habits or tics and seeing how others react to them. The reactions can tell the reader a lot about that character.

  3. Good morning!

    Jessica: I've yet to give any of my characters a permanent tic. I'm waiting for the right story to come along!

    Heather: Doesn't that puppy make you melt? So cute... Yes, we all have nervous habits, and let's face it, they can be annoying! It's fascinating to see how the other person reacts.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Great advice, Jill! I'm in the process of thinking about my characters and really getting to know them so your posts are very thought-provoking! I think I like the idea of giving my antagonist a tic!

  5. Love it! Definitely makes me want to consider a tic. Might be something fresh, instead of the same old, same old biting nails,lips, etc. :)

  6. My MC of my WIP (am I rapping here?) does have a tic. She rubs her cheeks red when she's overwhelmed. Her husband responds w/ worry and a heap of extra love.
    Great question!
    ~ Wendy

  7. seriously...cute doggie photo. as for tics, of course, you know i have to have them in my books! my current heroine wears her hair pulled back severely, and when stressed, she always tucks strays back...just a nervous mannerism. i'll have to think about how the hero would react. would he even care? i think he'll "pick up" on the fact she's nervous around him when she does it, though. that'll be fun. :)

  8. I like these ideas you just dive into. I can't remember a tic right off, and my current characters don't have any like what you've mentioned. There are small things, like that one always calls his mom "Mother" and another begins many sentences with a drawn-out and sarcastic "Right." But those aren't quite tics. Interesting to think about, for sure!

  9. Great picture, Jill! I think that this is definitely an area of characterization that requires thought for every writer. Physical tics can very well define a character throughout the story.

    My MC likes to bite her lip -- I didn't think about this, it just came out. Her baby loves her tags and pulls on them (this was a recent inspiration).

    Thanks for the insight! Have a great week!

  10. I love how you come up with these things! I'm not so sure I want to write about scab pickers...or toe nail biters (yes there have been people known to bite toe nails) BUT I wouldn't mind putting in a little twitcher here and there :)

  11. I have a character in one of my books who was a compulsive tooth sucker and toothpick mauler. It was a hoot, but I had to make sure I didn't overuse it.

    My main character thought it was gross. :)

  12. My husband pulls on his ear when he's nervous. I'm trying to work that into one of my books because it drives me crazy! I haven't quite found a way to do it, but I'm working on it!

  13. Lol, what a great picture! I've never really thought about this. It amazes me how into their characters some authors can get. One of the things I want to start doing to develop my characters more is spend more time people watching. And secretly bring along a pad of paper to write down interesting mannerisms and characteristics and compulsive movements. All those things that help make a character more human and relatable. Thanks for the good idea!

  14. Oh man, I wish I could go back and give mine one but my MC does pull back on her hair an awful lot. LOL and the FIL spits.

  15. I recently read a book repleat with tics and it was anoying beyond belief. But, I agree with you - done well, it can add to a character.

    btw, cutest doggie photo eveh.

  16. Jody: Yes, an antagonist should have a terrific tic! I loved how in Casino Royale, the poker player's eye bled when he was extremely stressed. Powerful!

    Katie: All of my heroine's tend to nibble on their nails. It's time for me to freshen up, too!

    Wendy: What a cool tic! And her hubby's response resonates with readers. Who doesn't want that kind of support?

    Jeannie: Ooo, how will the hero react? You've got me excited about this!

    Janna: I consider mannerisms "tic-lite." Important, relatable, but not over-the-top like a tic. And for that reason, I think books should have plenty of mannerisms, but very few actual tics.

    Weronika: Cool! I love the descriptions, especially the baby!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  17. Marybeth: Yes, the scab-picker and toenail biter (gross!!) are a tad over the top! But a twitch? could be fun.

    Erica: Toothpick Mauler! What a great description! I can see it...

    LazyWriter: Whew! I'm so glad you get annoyed by his tic. The world isn't perfect, and I would love to say I find all tics sweet, but there are a few which really drive me nuts!

    Cindy: Great idea. Definitely study people everywhere you go. I've been doing it forever. In fact, I remember when I was about ten, I heard another girl say "barf" and instantly took it as my own. I'm such a copycat!

    Terri: Oh, the old-man-spit. Priceless!

    Tess: I hear you. Please! One tic for one minor character is about all any reader can take. There should be a "rule" on this!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  18. This is an excellent question, Jill!
    IF I wrote fiction and IF one of my characters had a tic, say he scratched the back of his neck whenever he was nervous, I'd have the protagonist-- is that the right word?-- become annoyed with him. She is afraid to tell him how is grosses her out, so she develops her own counter-tic to overcome her fear-- she licks her lips to the point of chapping them. Now what? She becomes a compulsive lip balm applier!

    I love this question. It is so true to life.



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