Write Better, Right Now is a weekly post about getting writers to understand deeper writing strategies to take their stories to the next level. For writers looking for open pitch calls, writing jobs, and challenges to grow their career and craft, check out last week’s 1-2-3 Publish post!
Write Better, Right Now’s topics for February:
- Indirect and Direct Characterization (2/7)
- Character Action (2/16) *late due to family emergency
- Interior World of Characters (2/21)
- Physically Describing Our Characters (2/28)
How our characters move through our stories is just as important as who they are within our stories. In fact, a character’s actions and movements give the reader insight into who our characters are and so much more.
“Cooper kept his hands in his pockets as he shuffled beside Larry. ‘Do you think she likes me?'”
This shows Cooper as a reserved and possibly shy character. Our characters’ actions can also give readers important story details like character motivation without us relying on exposition dumps.
“Cooper flicked the locket in his pocket beside Larry. Open and shut, wishing one day he’d have someone’s picture to stick inside and worship like a dream. ‘Do you think she likes me?'”
Here we see that Cooper has a deep desire to be loved and to love someone, but we also get a sort of dark emotion. Did you know character actions can also help describe and show the reader our setting?
“Shielding his eyes with both his hands, Cooper leaned toward Larry and away from the naked seniors in the stone bath house. ‘Do you think she likes me?'”
Without spending a whole sentence describing the naked men and the appearance of the bathhouse, we’ve kept the action of the story moving forward and showed that our character is a bit modest. Character action is the physical characterization of our characters, but we can use it to do a multitude of things within our stories.
Jacob’s stomach is still fizzy from the rickety elevator, but holding his dad’s hand is keeping him steady. Uncle Rolly answers in his usual sweatpants and bath robe, looks from Jacob’s dad down to Jacob and back again, like confirming they’re them. When they are, he hooks his chin for them to follow him into his musty apartment, with the magazines and computer parts stacked up to the ceiling, all of it teetering but never falling. Uncle Rolly moves through the tunnels like a giant hamster, and gets to the kitchen first, where he has warm cans of Pepsi waiting, each one with a single belt of electrical tape around its middle.
Let’s get into it more below!
Like everything in our writing, we need to pinpoint what we are trying to do with our lines and scenes to determine when to use character action and how. But unlike a lot of other techniques, character action happens more often, or at least should. Character actions keep our stories from stalling. Everytime you spend paragraphs describing a setting, back story, and inner motivations you stop your characters forward progress through the story.
It’s sometimes necassary, but a lot of times, it’s not. Only you can decide. If you examine your scenes and moments and realize your character’s progress through the story stops frequently for long periods of time, ask yourself why and if you can do the same thing while keeping the story moving forward. When in doubt, find a critique partner to help you identify if and how your characters are moving through the story and what their actions add to the telling.
I’m sure you’ve come across a story where the character barely does anything physically and the moments seem to just happen without any physical repsonse or direction from the character. Often, these stories are over loaded with exposition in the form of telling the story and world to the reader instead of allowing our characters to show the world.
When you start writing ask yourself who your characters are. Are they the type of people who physically show their emotions during conflict? Or do they hold their emotions inside, letting out their physical reactions much later? Then go further. Pinpoint what you want to convey to the reader and how you can do it through character action to keep the story moving.
Even during scenes with heavy dialogue, have your characters moving in ways that show their emotions and how the words are effecting them. Maybe someone throws a vase across a room instead of saying they don’t want to talk about something. Mix up and introduce your character actions to add depth to your story and characters.
Pick an important setting in your current work in progress. What’s the location’s history and appearance? Jot down a few important markers. Then write a scene within this location where you give the reader the important markers you wrote down. But give them this information through the character’s action.
It doesn’t matter what point of view you choose. What does matter is how your characters move through this setting and react to it. Let’s say your setting is a high school cafeteria where one of your characters suffered a great heartbreak a few weeks ago. Instead of doing a flashback scene, show how your character reacts to the items and appearance of the setting. Intermix your characters’ actions with the history, exposition, and description of your setting.
- Writing Movement and Action in Dialogue
- Character Reaction—Make Your Characters Respond
- How to Write Your Characters’ Actions with Clarity
- How to Mix Character Actions and Internal Thoughts
- How to Show Character Through Action
- Describing Your Characters Through Their Actions
Write Better, Right Now’s topics from January:
- Evoking Strong Emotions (1/10)
- Replacing Sense Words (1/17)
- Describing Body Language (1/24)
- Original Metaphors and Similes (1/31)
If you were able to learn something new today, consider subscribing below to At Home Pro Writers to continue getting writing advice, links to open pitch calls, ultimate writing guides, and more. Or check out the writing and editing masterclasses I offer! And if you need a stellar creative writer or editor, let me know while my calendar is still open.
Please don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts on character actions or how you use them in your writing! Catch you, next week for our Write Better, Right Now post on the interior world of characters.