Make your character interesting with a few bad habits.
Mine smokes, swears, and drinks, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why does Old Mr. Banos cuss do much? That is something that I hope you never have to realize. It’s called frustration. A lifetime of frustration and now living in a shell of his former self.
We all get there, or we die. There is in the moment of illness that we sense that frustration and permeate it upon the people that love us.
When I had a stroke during the writing of this book, I reflected upon how Mr. Banos might react to his old age at 93, stuck in a nursing home after being for most of his life basically a superhero.
His scotch drinking and cigar smoking are about the only rebellions that he can withstand these days, so he partakes generously.
In the character’s youth, he was not obnoxious with his foul demeanor, except in rare circumstances. While he still enjoyed scotch and cigars, he showed a much kinder and gentler behavior.
To add contrast, we have old Mr. Banos pictured as a grumpy, foul-mouthed old man who has given up on life, or as he sees it, life has given up on him.
The resulting banter from the characters that interact with him will surely bring back a memory or two of a friend of yours sitting at the bar.
Spencer’s Two Cents
Part of the reason it’s a good idea to give your character a few “bad habits” (I use scare quotes because I think scotch and cigars are GOOD habits!) is to make them more interesting, sure. But I think the most valuable concept to walk away from this blog with is what constitutes believability.
Dad explains the rationale behind why Old Mr. Banos talks and acts the way he does because we took the time to interrogate the character when writing his story. Yes, I’m talking about Old Mr. Banos like he’s a real person. Why? Because if your characters don’t become real to you, they won’t become real for anyone else.
So when deciding which bad habits, idiosyncrasies, or mannerisms to give your characters, you have to sit down and have an honest chat with them. You have to assume the role of Dr. Miki MkDabbs, esteemed paranormal psychologist, and get inside the head-space of these people that you’re making. Old Mr. Banos curses and lashes out from frustration, he drinks and smokes to regain some sense of power in rebellion or independence.
Some of the best writing advice I ever received early on is that you should never ever use your characters as plot devices. This means that a character should make decisions, say things, and do things based on their own personality and positioning, not based on where you need the story to go. If you can stay true to this, you’ll be writing more believable and flawed characters who create more nuanced and complex plotlines for your readers.
If you’d like to practice, try taking some characters you’re intimately familiar with (you could have invented them for different stories or maybe they’re famous on their own) and write a scene where they have to work together. The best example for an exercise like this is having the characters move a couch together. How does each character approach the task? Who tries to lead the group? Who disagrees or causes conflict? Would the characters be able to figure out a way to accomplish their goal or would they not be able to get along long enough? Try it—could be fun.