Outside: How they behave

Another way we can describe characters is through the way they behave: what their habits and routines are, how they deal with different types of people, how they react to the world around them.

This snippet describes Mrs Twit purely through her behaviour:

In her right hand she carried a walking-stick. She used to tell people that this was because she had warts growing on the sole of her left foot and walking was painful. But the real reason she carried a stick was so that she could hit things with it, things like dogs and cats and small children.

The Twits(1980)

Dahl describes one key behaviour (carrying a walking stick) and then expands on it twice, telling us about how she lies about the stick, and then what she really does with it.

From that description, what kind of person do you think Mrs Twit is? What would you expect her to be like in other situations? You can guess a lot!

Here are some other examples where we take one key behaviour and expand on it twice to build a richer picture of the character.

Captain Punce always had his eye glued to the spyglass. He would often run from one side of the ship to the other, looking excitedly out to sea. He claimed he was looking for ships to rob, but everyone knew he was just whale spotting.

Snuffles loves to chase visitors around the house. He hides behind doors or around corners, crouching low, ready to pounce on unsuspecting passers-by. He likes to launch himself at my aunt’s ankles as she walks into the living room, giving her a fright.

When you look at these examples, notice they are describing general character behaviour not specific narrative action

What's the difference?

Well, narrative action would be something like:

"Mrs Twit saw the small child walking towards her. She hefted her walking stick, sniggering to herself. This was going to be a good one. She clocked the snotty little gobbler right on the chin."

See how that action puts us into a specific story at a specific moment in time? That's narrative action.

If you look again at the examples, you'll see they still describe action, but they describe more general repeated behaviours and actions, not unique instances.

There's no rule around this. You can describe a character by telling a unique story about them—in fact, that can be a cool idea. 

But for this specific lesson, we want you to step back from the character and describe their behaviour patterns.

Describe a character through their general habits and behaviour.