Behavior is communication.
Those three words are a staple of my trade as a mental health counselor. In a training this morning regarding discerning features of PTSD versus ADHD, those three words struck me. When we encounter others in a clinical setting, their behavior is communicating something to us. Shame. Guilt. Fear, are often among these.
Those three words went in my notebook immediately as I thought of their importance to writing fiction. Behavior is communication. I thought about my characters and I was struck by the power in those words. In each scene, the characters should be trying to portray something. People don’t do things just to do them. There’s a reason behind each and every action. Or at least there should be. Each action should communicate something from the character to the reader. What do we learn from the character in each action? What insights do we get about their personality? Their motivation? Their past?
Each character is a living, breathing, person in their own right. Maybe not in our world, but in theirs, they are. If you and I do things for a reason, they should too. If they are only words on a page, that’s all they’ll be to the reader as well. Dynamic, realistic, living characters are the best characters. They are the ones we remember. They are the ones that you connect to and keep you from putting down the story. Human beings are relational. Relationships are what hurt people, but relationships are also the thing that heal them. Readers want to be a part of that relationship. They want to know about the real people that hurt them. And they want to be there for the healing, as well. They want to see the behaviors that reflect all of that. Don’t disappoint them. Find out what your characters communicate. Make your characters real.