One of the easiest ways to show and not tell is by making your characters do things while they are talking to somebody or thinking about something. It could be anything including a chore, a daily grooming ritual, a hobby, or a group activity.
When you do this, you show who the character is by the things they choose to do or have to do. You also have to think about their body language, because the way a character does something says as much as the words they are speaking as they do it. [Read Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language]
Try to avoid the act of scrolling through cell phones. Even if many people do this, it is passive and does not allow for movement, thought, and changes in body language.
Choose activities that fit naturally into your characters’ lifestyles. Do not force them to do things unless you mean to make them uncomfortable. [Read 5 Simple Ways To Describe Characters]
- Colouring in a book.
- Shopping for groceries.
- Working on a car or a motorbike.
- Trying on clothes – at home or in a shop.
- Taking a dog for a walk.
- Playing a board game.
- Playing a game of cards.
- Giving a dog a bath.
- Cuddling a cat.
- Feeding pets.
- Walking through a museum or art gallery.
- Knitting, sewing, needlework.
- Having a bath.
- Taking a shower.
- Cleaning up after an accident – like a spilt glass of wine.
- Cleaning up after a deliberate act – smashing a photo frame, throwing a wine glass.
- Gardening – planting, weeding, cutting.
- Doing the dishes.
- Changing a baby’s nappy.
- Counting money.
- Wrapping presents.
- Buying a present for a friend or loved one.
- Preparing a meal.
- Setting a table.
- Looking for something.
- Browsing in a bookshop.
- Catching the bus or train.
- Decorating a room for a party.
- Packing a suitcase.
- Packing a box.
- Unpacking a suitcase.
- Unpacking a box.
- Sorting out old clothes.
- Sorting through old papers.
- Rearranging bookshelves.
- Sorting through photo albums.
- Ironing clothes.
- Getting your hair styled or coloured.
- Getting dressed or undressed.
- Putting on makeup or removing makeup.
- Dressing or undressing a child.
- Putting a child to sleep.
- Watching a child doing homework.
- Tending to a wound.
- Painting nails.
- Playing a sport.
- Going for a run.
- Hiking – alone or with somebody.
- Sharpening knives.
- Sorting medication for the week or month ahead.
- Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room.
- Making a shopping list.
- Going to the gym.
- Watering houseplants or the garden.
- Watching a child play.
- Saving a new contact on a phone.
- Rearranging furniture.
These activities allow for different types of reactions. A character could stop in the middle of any of these after hearing shocking news or realising something. News could also spur characters into changing what they are doing or the way in which they are doing it.
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© Amanda Patterson
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