08 July 2012

Character Behaviors I Hate


I read so much in my spare time, so I have the opportunity to notice patterns of things happening with amateur writers. I'm an amateur too, so I get to pick on you. This is how I convince myself to stop doing these same things which I abhor! It's the simple behaviors I find to be the laziest ways for building characters. 

Please don't do these things anymore and I promise I won’t either. There are better ways to get your characters to interact. The verbs I hate the most are: scoff, nod, frown and giggle. I'll tell you why.

1. He scoffed at her.

What does that look like? What does it mean?

Example:

She placed the napkins on the dinner table, ensuring each lay precisely an inch from the edge. When done, she aligned the utensils one half inch from each other on their respective beds of embroidered cotton.

He scoffed at her.

Okay, that falls flat. What did he actually do or say? What was his body language? If it was important to have us read all that detail from the woman, why isn't it just as important to share the actual scoff itself?

Try this:

She placed the napkins on the dinner table, ensuring each lay precisely an inch from the edge. When done, she aligned the utensils a half inch from  each other on their respective beds of embroidered cotton.


He took another pull from his Victorian pipe, "Why waste your time with that nonsense? The guests won't even notice."

What a snobbish thing to say! I'm outraged! This is a great opportunity to get your readers involved and caring about your characters and the things they do. If someone doesn't really know how the scoff comes across, the effectiveness of the scene is lost. Think about it.


2. He nodded.

What purpose does this serve? It's no different than saying, "I agree." It does nothing to move things along or to create conflict. Whenever you feel an urge for one of your characters to "nod" in agreement, it's time to insert some conflicting dialogue, which can add a little flavor and depth to your story. Here's an example of two men on foot while chasing someone:

"We'll head them off at the north entrance."


Randy nodded.

Boooorring! How about a little conflict or insertion of some testosterone? Guys don't just typically agree with one another either:

"We'll head them off at the north entrance."


"No, there are two ways out. You head them off at the north, I'll take the riverside."

The nod has been eliminated and we have a more interesting and realistic exchange!



3. He frowned.

Really? I'm impressed. Seriously though, I see this a lot and it is not worth commenting each time I see it because it feels a little nit-pickyish to me. But in the overall scheme of things, this is no better than "he nodded" because it doesn't do anything for the character or the plot. It's just there. So, okay.  Now we know your character isn't happy. There are better ways to do this.

Example:

She read the results of the paternity test to her ex-boyfriend, "It says that there's a 99.9% chance you are the father."


Richard frowned and snatched the report from her hand, "Liar!"

I don't think we need the writer telling us the character frowned. It almost inserts a sort of slow motion reaction to her revelation because he has to pause to get that frown on his face before he snatches the report. 

It's not necessary. Try this instead:

She read the results of the paternity test to her ex-boyfriend, "It says that there's a 99.9% chance you are the father."


Richard snatched the report, "Liar!"

See how immediate that seems? We can tell he's probably got a look on his face other than one of complete and utter bliss. It may not be a frown, a scowl, or a look of complete lunacy, but we don't care. We know he's not happy, and we know without having to be spoon fed this information. It just plays out visually in our heads. Note I also removed "from her hand". It's not necessary. We're smart enough to realize he probably didn't snatch the report from her teeth or any other part of her body.



4. She giggled.

To me, this one should be self-explanatory so I won't give examples. It's just that after a certain age, female characters do not giggle. Male characters NEVER giggle. And if I ever read a giggle coming from an alpha male, I will rub bleach into my eyes and drink a gallon of liquid Gain to cleanse my soul.


So, what actions annoy you the most and why? There are plenty more out there and I've used them all as well. I'm weaning myself off them, however, and I hope you will too!

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