#20 Characterization – Using Action to Characterize

by | Jul 20, 2020 | Writers Write

What?s in An Action

One of the ways to write indirect characterization is to use action, because it reveals a lot about the character. For example, it reveals the way they move, their mannerisms, their habits and out of character actions.

This technique is one of the most powerful an author can use to characterize because action is the fabric on which we build our lives. When you tell a story about your life it involves an action you took. Even if you only thought about it, that too is an action – thinking.


Strong Verbs, Strong Action

To use actions as a characterization tool you need to first master verbs – strong ones. A strong verb is more specific, concise and description. Compare the two sentences:

Example 1: Weak verb (moved)

I moved quickly to avoid his blow.

Moved it weak because it is vague. It doesn?t tell us how he moved. Weak verbs often need adverbs to strengthen them.

Example 2: Strong verb (parried)

I parried his blow.

Parried is a strong verb because it?s concise, descriptive and specific. Already we see in how the character moved. Parried also has connotations you can make use of as an author.


Characterizing Using Action

The focus is on the verb so use the formula: Noun/Pronoun + Strong Verb + Description. Create a list of mannerisms, movements and habits for your character. Then find strong verbs that epitomize these actions. After completing this exercise, write sentences to explore how your character acts in given situations. Lastly, write descriptions to further describe the movements to bring it all home.?


Jane danced across the kitchen floor on the balls of her feet. She reached for the cupboard on her tiptoes, before twirling back to her pots simmering on the stove with the chosen spices in hand.?

The proper noun is Jane, the strong verb is danced and the description is “across the kitchen floor on the balls of her feet”. The description is known as an adverbial clause, which functions as an adverb modifying how Jane danced.

The passage above gives us several indirect clues to Jane’s character. She is energetic because she dances and twirls across the kitchen floor. Also, she is short, because she had to reach to the top cupboard on her tiptoes. Finally, there is a hint to another activity she performs. Jane cooks. In two sentences, we have conveyed a lot of information about Jane. This is the power of using action to characterize.


The Big Idea: Using Actions

Actions are a powerful tool to characterize indirectly. If you use strong verbs and their connotations you can convey a lot about a character using very few sentences. If you make the action align to the purpose of the scene or the plot, even better. You don’t have to break the flow of the story to characterize, but rather you can use the actions in the plot. Use the action formula: Noun/Pronoun + Strong Verb + Description and play around with variations to write your most compelling characters yet.

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