Monday, February 7, 2011

Defining Characters by their Actions

What a person does in secret defines who he is.

I'd wrap punctuation around this statement if it were the exact quote, but I don't think it is. Nevertheless, you know what I mean.

We've all known someone either personally or politically who preaches the importance of helping those in need publicly then gives little of his time or money privately to do as he claims to advocate. We may want to call this person a hypocrite or duplicitous or maybe a dirty, rotten scoundrel.

This week I'm continuing to offer more ways for writers to define the characters in their fictional writing.

Last week we talked about using comparisons in character illustration; the week before we discussed using examples. This week we're looking at defining characters by their actions.

Here is a simple telling of a fact about Jack: "Jack is a dirty, rotten scoundrel."

To better describe Jack's private convictions so our reader can get to know him intimately we might define him in this way.

"Jack stole $60 from the blind man's donation cup when the bystanders, upon hearing a crash, turned to see the aftermath of a bus accident."

While Jack was robbing the blind man blind, Carey was doing something else.

"Carey had never had a day of medical training, but when she saw the bus accident, she went immediately to the passengers to offer whatever help and comfort she could."

While Carey was offering aid to accident victims, the driver of the bus had her own agenda.

"Louise left the driver's seat as soon as she felt the bus hit the fire hydrant. She figured if she ran off and hid for a few hours the alcohol content in her blood would no longer be high enough to warrant another DUI conviction."

Jack was a jerk.

Carey was a caring person.

Louise acts irresponsibly.

Characters are so much better illustrated when writers show who these people really are at the very core of their beings by using the characters' actions to define them.

Hope your week is a good one!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

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