Michille: Character Actions

The Devil Takes a BrideOne of my favorite writer blogs is Writers Write. Most of what they write about is creative, but they also discuss business writing, and blogging and social media. A recent topic was a fun one for me – 60 Things for Your Characters To Do When They Talk Or Think. What things can characters be doing while talking? What actions will reveal character more thoroughly?

When I read the list, I mixed up a few which ended up giving me amusing images, like bathing a cat (I mixed up giving a dog a bath and cuddling a cat) and watering a child (mixed up watering houseplants with watching a child play). Of course, giving a cat a bath could create some hilarity in a story. Some of them seem a little too much like sittin’-and-thinkin’ activities, like knitting, hiking alone, or waiting in the doctor’s office.

A couple of the ideas could yield clues to mystery if that is a part of the story – sorting through photo albums or old papers, cleaning up a hoarder’s mess, or even rearranging furniture. Sorting through medications could be a way to show the hill health of a character or obsession with his/her health if it’s vitamins, minerals, and other supplements. Sharpening knives could be perceived as a threatening act in the right circumstances (or the wrong ones). Ironing clothes could display a character’s OCD if he/she keeps ironing until the seam is absolutely perfect. And I am reading a book right now in which the hero is OCD and he is obsessed with the number 8 and taps it out with his hand when he is conversing (The Devil Takes a Bride, Julia London).

I just read a book in which the female character buttered the same piece of toast three times, so I found this post very timely. What do you have your characters do when they are talking?

2 thoughts on “Michille: Character Actions

  1. The one conversation from my finished novel that springs to mind first is 2 people having a conversation in the middle of the night while one was on guard duty, watching for dangerous wildlife, while the rest of camp slept.

    Often, when writing the first draft, I’m more concerned about the conversation than the action, unless the scene specifically calls for the characters to be actively doing something, but even then sometimes I forget to include it for a while. Even after trying to fix those spots, one of my beta-reading sisters more than once had trouble with scenes where she’d say, “I just can’t picture what they’re doing in my head. Are they standing? Sitting? Are they facing each other?” If I left off even those minor things, you can imagine how well I painted the scene overall.

    I think it’s safe to say this is an area I can work on (not during first drafts, necessarily, because it will slow me down, but during revision). I’m bookmarking that site. Thanks for posting about this!

    • I completely agree with you – it’s an edit item. I suppose sometimes, I include the stage blocking in the draft, but usually if there are words that need to be exchanged, I get those down and then figure out what they’re doing.

      And you’re welcome. I love that blog.

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