Beyond coffee: giving characters interesting & varied action 1

Sometimes writers think only of the function of a scene – for instance, if the plot demands that the protagonist argues with his wife then the writer writes the argument and, to break up the dialogue, has the characters doing something mundane such as drinking cups of coffee. This video discusses the value of getting your characters doing something interesting while they’re advancing the plot.

Video transcript follows below:

One January, when I was marking, I decided to count how many cups of tea and coffee I read about in a month. I lost count at 42. Intermediate writers know that their characters should exist in time and space. If the plot demands that Robert and Tina need to have a particular argument, then they need to have that argument in a particular place, at a particular time. Which means they have to be doing something. So why not have them drinking cups of coffee?

Well, let’s see how that works out for drama.

Wasn’t great, was it?

Since this is fiction, since you can make this stuff up, you can make Robert and Tina have their argument in any place, while they’re doing any action that’s appropriate for their characters. And surely you can come up with something more interesting than drinking cups of coffee?

Why not have them arguing while she’s repairing a bike, or they’re taking their daughter to the zoo, or they’re hiking by the Grand Canyon, or they’re investigating the extent of the dry rot in the attic, or they’re dealing with a power cut, or they’re removing a hornets’ nest, or going to a yoga class, or anything except sitting there drinking another bloody cup of coffee.

Whatever the function of the scene, put your characters in an interesting place and give them something interesting to do. I promise it makes writing so much easier.

Thanks for watching and good luck with your writing.

(The thumbnail photograph was taken by Jordan Merrick and is covered by a Creative Commons license. You can find more of his work here:

One comment

  1. Pingback: Free Writing Critique: Mountain of Souls by R.J. Champion « Online Writing Tips

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