Mindee Arnett

Glossary of Character Reactions

One of the things you hear most often from other writers who are going through the editing process is that they have a tendency to use the same character reactions over and over again. This is definitely true of me and my process with The Nightmare Affair. Mostly, the times that I do this is during scenes with a lot of dialogue. My characters tend to do a lot of nodding, shrugging, and glaring. 

I think the primary reason why I tend to overuse these reactions is because they’re quick and easy. Rather than slow down and picture my characters acting out these scenes, I sometimes skate along, focused completely on the dialogue and not on what they’re doing. This is definitely a sign of lazy writing, and something I’m consciously working to improve.

However, sometimes – a lot of times, really – you need to have those character reactions in there. The characters are always the most important element in a story. What they’re feeling/thinking/doing is what gives the story the life it needs to keep readers engaged.

Given that, I’ve decided to create a Glossary of Character Reactions. This is definitely just for fun and not something I plan on using as a crutch (and neither should you). I almost feel like a cheat doing it at all. But writing is a collaborative process, and anybody who tells you differently either needs an ego-check or they’ve never worked with a serious critique partner, agent, or editor yet. Also, I intend this to be a brain-jogger. Sometimes when I’m revising/editing, my brain gets tired and this list can be a way to get the juices flowing again. Also I have a feeling it might give us a few laughs, too.

So below you’ll see the list I’ve comprised so far. My challenge to you, dear readers and friends, is to help me expand the list by adding your own favorite character reactions as well as a couple of new ones in the comments. Then in a couple of days, I’ll add everybody’s suggestions into a master list and do a new blog post. Sound fun? I hope so. At the very least we can all bond over how dependent we all are on ourcharacters reactions (she said with a shrug). (You can comment here or on Blogger)

1. blinked

2. blushed

3. flushed

4. glanced

5. glared

6. glowered

7. grinned

8. looked

9. nodded

10. scowled

11. shrugged

12. sighed

13. smiled

14. sneered

15. trembled

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  1. I'm SO bad with repeat descriptions, haha! I think my characters shrug at least once a page, and don't even get me started on how often they nod. Geez. :) Here's my go-to list when I'm writing: swallowed grit teeth clenched jaw rolled eyes snapped retorted mocked exhaled narrowed eyes squinted raised brow cocked head pursed lips eyes widened frowned scrunched nose wrinkled forehead scoffed groaned moaned whined complained jaw dropped went pale froze hesitated gasped
  2. I do a lot of DESCRIBING the talking: I managed....he began....she faltered....I ventured....he started....Wait, maybe it's an issue with getting the words OUT ;)