Action is Character
Updated: Mar 26
“Action is character. What a person does is what he is, not what he says.”
― Syd Field, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
I quote this line in every writing workshop I host, regardless of the topic. If you have one mantra as a stage or film writer, this is it: Action is character. Take a Sharpie, scribble it on an index card and tape it in a highly visible spot in your workstation.
People love to talk about themselves and love to talk about other people. As you create dialogue that mimics this habit humans have, add stage directions that prove the speakers' reliability, or lack thereof, as a narrator through the use of action.
Sample Scenario - The Babysitter
In the scenario from the caption (left), the development of the character through action is going to also drive the plot. AND! it will lead to further action that further reveals character and further drives plot: Will she leave the shattered evidence in plain view or will she clean it up and accuse someone else of stealing it?
Sample Script - The Ribbon
Lillian (dressed in overalls): I don't give a rat's ass what people think! I mind my business, ao they should mind theirs. What business has she comin' in here telling me I'll never get a man 'cause of the way I dress? Not every woman needs a man like that shined up hussy!
Martin: Well, pretty is all Emma Jean has going for herself, I reckon. So, the thought of being plain is scary to her. I suppose the day will come along when your sense outshines her pretty face. That will be a sad day for Emma Jean.
Lillian's anger subsides to a pout as she returns to the table and flips through her text book not really reading. Determined to get her mind off of Emma Jean, she searches for the homework page and finds it. The difficult math problem restores her usual, confident demeanor. Ready to tackle the math problem, she reaches for her pencil that is not there. She goes to the bureau, opens the top drawer where she finds a pencil and heads back to the table. She stops part way, then returns to the bureau and reopens the drawer. She pulls out a pink hair ribbon. She ties the ribbon in her hair and smooths her hairs.