Characterization In Action

Emma Darwin (British-English spellings)

When I let myself in for giving a workshop on Characterisation at Writers’ Workshop’s Getting Published event yesterday, I realised I haven’t blogged directly about Characterisation as much as some things. It is a big subject, but for me, it’s all founded in Aristotle: a character without action isn’t a story, it’s a portrait.  In “Clothes and Food and Dropping Presents” I explored how the process of creating (discovering? uncovering?) your characters can, essentially, go from the outside in, or the inside out, but here are some other ways to help you develop your characters-in-action.

And please don’t forget that, as with any kind of imagining-on-paper, there’s no reason to assume that you need to do this kind of thing before you start your draft. It may well be that it’s more useful later, when you find you’re defaulting to bland, standard-issue actions because your character isn’t yet fully individual; when you just can’t think what they’d do next; when you’re in the 30K Doldrums.

First, as anyone who knows anything about acting (or grammar) knows, actions are expressed as verbs. So try these:

  • Ten verbs for your character’s characteristic physical actions:
    jump, dash, crumple, push, snarl, nibble, taste, wolf, leap, flop
  • Ten verbs for their characteristic mental or emotional actions:
    spend, avoid, hunger, dream, enroll, crumple, flinch, rejoice, snooze

Did you notice how mental actions are often expressed as physical metaphors – crumple, flinch? Next, if you find that material objects help you to focus on someone, then try these to help you jump the tracks of the standard-issue things for your character’s gender/age/ethnicity/class: See More . . . 




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