Without a doubt, a character’s actions have a quite a bearing on other actions and reactions, rather like a ripple effect, and like dialogue, it’s a useful way of revealing character.
Direct action refers to what your character does in response to other characters or what he or she does in order to provoke reactions from others. And provocation is always a good thing; it creates conflict, which every story should thrive on. All this allows the writer to influence how the story evolves. Cause and effect is always in play.
What does that mean exactly? Imagine if Character B reveals a secret about one of the protagonist’s loved ones, and threatens to share this information. How will the protagonist react? And what will that reaction do to affect the story arc? Will his or her reaction influence others? Will it create a huge amount of conflict? Will it cause the protagonist to do something completely out of character, something extreme?
For every action there is reaction and the ripple effect influences things further down the line. Reactions often mirror the actions, for instance, taking someone’s hand and holding it means you care for that person, you like them. A gentle kiss on the forehead tells the recipient that he or she is loved. These subtle actions garner subtle reactions by return, perhaps a squeeze of the hand or a smile. Conversely, more aggressive actions are usually met with aggressive reactions.
Remember that actions can:
- Reveal character
- Direct the story arc
- Influence other characters
- Provoke further reactions, which creates conflict
Remember that every action creates a reaction, and that actions always evolve from motivation. In real life, there is always a reason behind what we do and say. This is true for characters, so what they do and say will affect other characters and compel them to react.
The subject of emotion is a little more complex, because as writers, we can control, manipulate and feign a character’s emotions in order to influence other characters or a situation. We can provoke other characters, hurt them even.
Often, emotions arise from reactions to something said, someone else’s actions or an event. They are a clever way of revealing character, in much the same way internal thoughts do. Our raw emotions can be very revealing, especially when we don’t want them to be, because once emotions get the better of us, we end up revealing our true personalities.
That said, we can also control emotions to affect others, to our own advantage. This Machiavellian approach works well for antagonists in particular. They love to manipulate or control other people’s emotions.
Emotions can also be intentionally held back in order to reveal someone who may be cold and calculating, or perhaps they are fearful of showing their feelings, for reasons known only to them and the writer. Whatever the reason; by creating emotion and having your characters react with emotion reveals character. It also creates empathy and immediacy with the reader.
Emotion is a powerful tool to work with; they tend to override logical thought. It makes people do strange things, whether that emotion is positive or negative, and that’s why it is so complex.
If your characters don’t react to other characters and situations, there would be little substance to the story you are telling, because without character actions and reactions to help drive the story forward, there would be little characterisation, little emotion, lack of conflict and no depth for the reader to delve into.
Remember, cause and effect happens in real life so it must also happen in your fiction. Give them reasons to act and give the rest of the characters reasons to react.