Do you have any little writing rituals? Pens all arranged in order maybe, even if you’re not using a pen? I have a friend who always gives her computer screen a quick wipe off before she settles down to write. After all, no-one wants to be gazing at their prose through a dust mote.
No point going into the psychology of it – if we feel this helps us it probably helps us – settles us down, helps us get into the writing mind-set.
It’s not just writers who do this, and not just within our writing life. I like to start my day with a good walk. This is not a ritual, heavens no! But if circumstances dictate that I can’t walk till the afternoon I get uncomfortable and antsy. No reason – it’s just not the way my daily non-ritual works.
Our rituals say more about us than we realize. The same is true for the characters we’re writing about. They have their rituals, some grounded in reality, some not. Aunt Emily always leaves the family get together early because she doesn’t feel comfortable driving in the dark. Uncle Will always cuts his meat into one-inch squares before he eats it. Who knows why?
Odd as these things may be they have their uses in fiction. They may drive part of a plot or sub-plot. They reveal character. They could also explain an action that otherwise might seem unreasonable.
If Uncle Will cuts his meat into squares he probably has many other little personal rules. (Every penny he spends must be entered into a spreadsheet printout and he has a special pen for that).
So when your plot hinges on Uncle Will making a small leap of faith (even though it’s an action most people would take) he will be unable to step out of his rigidly controlled life to do it.
Even without being a plot point little rituals can give your character extra dimension. She always drinks her coffee black. He always opens envelopes with a letter opener. It doesn’t have to matter to the plot, you just see them in everyday action.
And if their ritual doesn’t happen correctly you see how they respond – Anger? Upset? Oh, never mind? Your reader understands the character better.
Be aware of little rituals, your own and those you notice in the people around you. Those little rituals can be gold for a writer.