Jane Cooper is one of my best friends and a dear writing buddy. She is one of those warm, thoughtful, creative people who make life for those who know her just that little bit better. She is a teacher of English and Creative Writing. She’s written eight textbooks for use in Scottish Schools, and is the author of 365 Ways To Get You Writing. In this exercise, Jane gets us practising an important skill for writers: giving our readers the space to use their imaginations rather than handing them everything on a plate.
Over to Jane:
What makes this exercise work?
The Austin Powers movies used to have a character called Basil Exposition. The joke was that he would arrive at two or three moments in the film and deliver reams of information by simply telling it to the other characters, to the point of laughable stupidity. Readers don’t like to be told. They like it when we treat them as if they are clever enough to infer and understand things for themselves. That applies to character just as much as to plot, and this exercise lets us work on showing character.
If you’re a solo writer, you can do this just by following the instructions below. But, if you are working with a group, you can turn it into a game.
If you want to play the game version, you need to make two sets of cards, preferably in different colours. On the first set, write done the emotions mentioned below, one per card: angry, afraid, worried and so on. On the second set of cards, write down the actions: buying 3 items at a supermarket, answering a ringing phone, arriving home and so on. Shuffle the cards, and get each writer to pick one of each colour.
Timing: 10 minutes writing, 10 minutes sharing
However you do it, give yourself, or your writers, 10 minutes to write the scene. If you’re playing the group game version, each person can them read out what they’ve written, for the rest of the group to identify what the writer was trying to show.
Show that a character is angry just by describing the way he/she buys three items at the supermarket
Show that a character is afraid just by describing the way he/she starts a car and drives off
Show that a character is worried just by describing the way he/she answers a ringing phone
Show that a character is exhausted just by describing the way he/she arrives home
Show that a character is shy just by describing the way he/she comes into a crowded room
Show that a character is in love just by describing the way he/she opens the post
Extension: Take your favourite character – action description and turn it into a story or adapt it to use for one of the characters in the piece of writing you are working on.