Better Storytelling: Character Actions
Actions include the character’s physical doings, as well as his/her state of being and decisions (s)he makes.
Y’know what? Developing the RIGHT actions and not rambling is harder than you think. Just like that move you made there wasn’t the best to show us what kind of person you are. 😤
In The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Katniss knows that only one person can survive at the end of the games. Yet, when she encounters a child contestant who reminds her of her little sister, she decides to spare her and they work together to survive.
RELATED ARTICLE — “JUSTIFY ACTIONS WITH EMPATHY”
Why should I bother?
What a character does helps in two ways:
- we can connect to him/her based on whether we would do the same or not;
- we can live through a character through situations we wouldn’t face.
The actions carried out become the live action of the movie in our heads as we read.
Katniss’s decision to partner with the little girl is a huge risk. It shows us how much she loves her sister, and also her soft heart. She sympathizes and empathizes with this girl. But, her clouded perception makes it harder later because she ignores the later implications. Her kindness would be her downfall if she had to be the one to kill the girl in the end to win the games.
How do I do this?
So, there are three parts of character actions, like I mentioned before. Here’s how to make each happen.
- Doings – When writing your story, describe it like a movie with plenty of imagery. Are the characters walking urgently toward their car? No, they’re speed walking in a race to the car like the childish adults they are.
- Decisions – Your character will inevitably make decisions that will essentially drive the next moves and doings that (s)he will do. When making those clear, use background, dialogue, and inner dialogue to spotlight the conflict you’re emphasizing.
- State of Being – This one is a little more complicated. Really, it’s just who your character “is” at the time. When your character is curious, infuriated, or entranced, (s)he is a “different person” in a way, which will change his/her behaviors. Utilize body movement descriptions–furrowing eyebrows, shifting on feet, eyes widening–and inner dialogue to let us in on how your character is feeling.
This making sense? You would think actions would be easiest to describe–movements with imagery, right? But like I said before, the right actions, especially when describing those last two, can really make a difference. Just like in real life.
Have you seen any good examples of action-use in writing to characterize?
Let us know in the comments below. And on social media, of course.