Characterization Exercise: Retelling and Reaction

A long time ago, I suggested an exercise in which the object of the game was to come up with a character’s retelling of an event, in voice. But no story is told in a vacuum, and few are told without someone to hear them.

For this exercise, then, choose two characters and one event. It helps if one was involved in the event and the other knows nothing about it, though you can get interesting results with a character working off of secondhand knowledge, or one who either was there or heard about it from another source. You don’t actually have to come up with the words this time (at least, unless you want to give yourself an extra challenge and combine it with the recap exercise). Instead, focus on the character retelling the event and the character listening—describe their actions, emotions, and body language, as if you were writing a wordless conversation. Is this something the teller necessarily wants to tell, or the listener wants to hear? Does it need to stop in the middle for any reason? How does the way in which the listener reacts—or how the teller tells it, for that matter—change over the course of the retelling? Does the pre-existing dynamic between the characters change how the initial tones and reactions play out; might it look different if the teller or the listener was someone else? Is this the first time this event has been retold—and if not, does that make a difference? If you’re feeling really ambitious, bring location into it as well; what kind of effect do the surroundings have on the retelling?

Trying this will give you a better sense of the characters both in their context and in their skins. As an added bonus, if you’re a writer with a story where characters have to bring each other up to date a lot, this can serve as more than just practice: using scenes like these can save you a lot of text worth of recaps while still preserving the characters’ reactions for your audience.

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