Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Character in action
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Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 13 May 2001
Exercise: Character In Action
It is said that in fiction, character drives action, and action
This is true in all fiction, be it action-driven or
but it may be easier to see in the action-driven stories. Think of a
good adventure story: the characters' reactions to events both drive
the subsequent events, and show us what that person is really like.
Indiana Jones' refusal to accept the loss of the Ark led to everything
that followed - with decisions at every step leading to more results.
His refusal also defines him as a character - we learn quickly in the
story that this is a character who can't bear to lose, who will do
whatever it takes (within the bounds of certain principles, which his
adversaries don't respect) to reach his goal.
In a totally different story, Crime and Punishment, Raskalnikov is
driven to murder by events: poverty, illness, and bad news from home
fuel his crime. The crime, in turn, affects him, and causes him to take
more actions. At every step, he has a decision to make, and those
decisions determine how the action will proceed - character drives
events. (A different character would have reacted differently; his
friend Razoumikhine would never have considered murder, would never
gone through with it - hence, *his* story would be an entirely
Because Raskalnikov is not a criminal at heart, guilt and worry eat
him, turn him in turns paranoid and reckless: action defines character.
We not only learn who Raskalnikov is through his actions (a man
from reality to a degree, but not entirely), but we see how the actions
In 300 words or less, put a character in a difficult situation. The
character must react, reach a decision, take action, and through this
are to learn more about what type of person we are dealing with.
Remember: actions speak louder than words, so avoid exposition and
The critics should try to point out what sense they got of the
character, and what in particular led to that impression.
Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 20 May 2001
We had a good week, especially considering that this was not an easy
I was a little surprised at how many submissions dealt with very
dramatic situations: murders, accidents, and the like. I guess I
should have expected that when I spoke of putting the character in a
difficult situation - though as some of the other submissions showed,
this can be something quite mundane, a man trying to impress a woman, a
woman given the opportunity to change jobs.
Obviously, most stories will tend to have both types of situations,
different mixes based on the type of story. In fact, one could say that
a story is simply a sequence of such situations and reactions. In a
story, a character must always react for a reason, based on situation
and character - it is a common flaw in fiction (even in many
best-sellers) to have a character act for now good reason, except that
the author needed to have that happen for the plot to proceed.
As with some of the other exercises, I think we've only scratched
surface of this topic; I would welcome any suggestions on variants to
this exercise to allow us to explore this topic further.
Thanks to all who participated - I hope you've all found it a
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Rhéal Nadeau and
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Modified by Gayle Surrette.