Monday, January 12, 2009

Character Actions: How Do Your Characters Score?

One of the most challenging aspects of writing is keeping it fresh – especially in terms of character actions during dialogue, etc. In a first draft, my stuff is filled with characters crossing their arms, raising eyebrows, rolling their eyes and shaking their heads. Nothing wrong with these actions, but if they are all you can produce – your readers will get bored and your characters will be flat, flat, flat.

This weekend I accompanied my basketball coach husband and his grade 9-10 team on a tournament outside of Calgary – a six hour bus trip there AND back. It was fun. The guys were big goofs and I took the opportunity to do what any YA fiction writer – without kids of her own - would do – I took notes.

During the weekend I watched how the kids interacted, how they made fun of each other, helped each other, and how they moved through the world. I now have pages of “teen” actions to choose from – some are unusual, some are funny and some are even a bit sad. And yes, I did see the crossed arms, rolling eyes, sure I did – and that’s why I’m not saying you should cut every single one, but put your observational skills to work and find some nifty body language. It’s out there.

On a scale of 1 (total clicheville) to 10 (original/quirky) how do your character's actions score?


Tami Klockau said...

First draft, I'd have to say my character action scores are pretty low. Like you, I use the shrug, eyebrow raise, eye roll, etc. WAY too often.

Would love to hear some of the actions you picked up on your trip!

Jenita said...

See, being a teen, I should know how teenagers act... technically. And yet, I have the feeling that I do repeat the same actions far too often...

Tami Klockau said...

That's interesting, Jenita. Thanks for sharing. We love when we get posts like yours, esp. from teens!

I think actions work a little like stereotypes. They're used in reference for a reason. If people didn't roll their eyes, lift their eyebrow or shrug a lot, writers wouldn't think to put them into the books.

That being said, I do think these actions are overused in a lot of stories (mine included). Giving a character a different action gives the character a personality and it says they are different or makes them standout.

Jenita said...

There's also the fact that it's so much easier to say that a character rolled their eyes than to describe exactly how they kind of shrugged their shoulders and kind of laughed and kind of narrowed their eyes and hope that the readers understands exactly what you mean. Rolling your eyes is not only a universal gesture, it's also a simple one -- you know exactly what it means when you read it.

Not that that makes it any better, but it makes it that much harder to quit. :S