Sunday, 31 March 2013

Revealing Character Through Action

This week for my creative writing class we were asked to write three short pieces which, through a focus on action, reveal much about character. The three characters I chose are from a short story I've been working on forever and which is still nowhere near finished. It's about six women from very different backgrounds who meet in a market research focus group for "feminine empowerment products" ie. tampons. I got the inspiration from a stint in market research as a telephone interviewer. Yes I was one of those annoying people who ring you in the middle of dinner and want to know if you're laundry detergent/toilet paper/bank is making you happy.

These pieces aren't from the stories, they're just exercises designed to help bring out character through action and they were really fun to write. They were only meant to be 100 words each but I went a bit over. I've never done much of this thing before but I'm finding the exercises extremely valuable because they force you to focus on every single word.

·         Your character does something that reveals or explains something about their physical self, their body. Don’t literally describe their appearance.


Charlie was only halfway up the hill but already she was fighting to breathe and her face was on fire. Her legs were hot and itchy, a fly kept buzzing around her head and she could smell her own stale armpits. Sweat pooled under her bra and trickled across the folds of her stomach. With each step the shopping got heavier until it felt like she was lugging plastic bags of concrete to the top of Mount Everest. She wished she’d been able to resist the three-jumbo-Cokes-for -the-price-of-two special that week but she’d always been a sucker for a bargain. The top of the hill was just coming into view when Charlie dropped down into the gutter and took several deep shuddering breaths. She fumbled around in her bag, growing increasingly frantic until she found whas she was after, and with an audible sigh relief she pulled out a packet of cigarettes.



·         Your character has been asked for assistance from another person that they know, who is bleeding profusely (such as a work colleague, sibling or neighbour). Don’t focus on the blood.


At the sight of the deep cut on Doug’s hand Ainsley took a step back. She turned away and scanned the hall to see if there was anyone around who could help,

.     “Ainsley, can you please get the first aid-kit. I’m bleeding pretty badly here you know.”

      “Okay, sorry Doug.” She glanced at her watch. It was almost lunchtime. When she  found the kit  Ainsley hurried back to the office and put it down on the desk next to Doug.

“You’ll be okay now?” she said, turning to leave.

“No, not really. It’s stopped bleeding but you’ll have to bandage it for me.” Glancing at her watch again Ainsley unfurled the bandage and tried not to be too rough as she wrapped Doug’s arm.


·         Your character either tries to keep someone they know in their flat or house, garden, car, office, boat (etc). They must do this in a way that is characteristic of them.  They may fail or succeed.


She closes the gate with a crash and sees the two boys jump. Tyler looks the most frightened but Jackson is a bit scared too. His eyes are darting around nervously even though he’s trying to look like he doesn’t care. She steps in front of them and raises herself to her full height.

“It was his idea,” blurts out Tyler after a tense thirty-second stand-off. “I didn’t even want to go but he called me a baby.”

“I did not, it was his idea too. He wanted to see the new fish in Ben’s aquarium.” Beckoning to Jackson to step forward first she holds out her hand.

“Oh, Mum, no, please not my ipod.” She doesn’t speak or break her stare and he looks away first, hanging his head and pulling his ipod from his pocket. “You suck,” he screams when he is a good distance away. She chooses to ignore him.


  1. Excellent advice. Thanks for posting and I'm glad I stopped by!