Monday, May 14, 2012


The thing about habits is many times they're so ingrained, it's almost impossible to change them. Not everyone wants to expend a conscious effort to break them.

If you're like me and many others, you follow similar patterns or habits each day. I usually get up, eat, walk the dog, and do other chores and activities within the same framework of time. I don't even change my menu much.

My living room drapes, kitchen curtains, and shades are always closed. My neighbor, who leaves hers open night and day, happened to mention that one of the other neighbors told her he knew when she went to bed each night. That made her nervous, since the one who mentioned it was a bit strange to begin with. Fortunately, he moved out of the neighborhood before any harm came to her.

In mysteries, we can use habits to our advantage. First, we can drop hints about certain habits the victims have, whether it be leaving for work or returning home around the same time, leaving the doors to the house unlocked, or leaving a car's motor running to warm it up, uncollected mail, or something as simple as always going shopping at a certain store at a certain time, and other tipoffs. Then we have the bad guy notice the habits and take advantage of them.

The bad guys also have habits, often called modus operandi. Those habits, which they sometimes do on purpose, but not always, can trip them up when they least expect it.

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 In my romantic suspense, Killer Career, the heroine came from an impoverished family. To compensate, she became a lawyer, and fell into the habit of amassing money instead of following her dreams. When she tried to break the mold and begin a writing career instead, countless obstacles stood in her path, including not only the potential loss of a good friend, but also physical danger.

Can you give an example of how habit plays a part in a book, either yours or someone else's?

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Mark Troy said...

I always remember First mate Starbuck from Moby Dick carrying a cup of coffee in every scene. It's a habit for that character which makes an unforgettable image. So in my current series I gave my main character's best friend the habit of always carrying a travel mug of chai. She even accessorizes with the travel mug, matching the color of the mug to her outfit.

Morgan Mandel said...

Mark, Great idea to make her distinctive!

Morgan Mandel

Jan Christensen said...

Great post, Morgan. Something to think about, for sure. I found a similar idea awhile ago and used it in my latest novel. Main character and some others should have some kind of tic (which is really a habit, as well, but more of a small, physical action, often unconscious), such as rubbing fingers together, touching a cheek, tapping a pen, and so forth. I found it's not that easy to come up with tics, but do think it was worth the effort.

Morgan Mandel said...

Speaking of tics, I had one going on my right eyelid for the longest time. I think it was due to being at the computer too often. Once I varied my routine, it disappeared.

Morgan Mandel

Terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry said...

Excellent post ... just what this long time fiction/mystery reader turned first time fiction/mystery writer needs for inspiration. Thank you, thank you ..

Cheryl said...

Fabulous post, Morgan. One of my older characters is prone to peering over her eyeglasses--especially when she's about to scold someone.

Morgan Mandel said...

It's great the way writers are taking advantage of habits here.

Morgan Mandel

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

In my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, including No Bells, Detective Frank Marshall, who used to be a smoker, now chews gum endlessly. He also polishes his bald spot.


Morgan Mandel said...

More great examples from Marilyn!

Morgan Mandel

Maggie Toussaint said...

In my WIP, my heroine has a habit of brushing her hand over her pocket. She carries a keepsake, passed down from her mom to her dad and now to her. This habit makes her feel safer when she encounters bad guys.