Sparkbook Snippet: Action Reveals Character

(This excerpt is from the Pose Drawing Sparkbook, a super-charged sketchbook designed to help you put more life and personality into your drawings. Think of it as acting exercises for your sketchbook. Read other snippets here and here.)

Action Reveals Character (Excerpt)

Once you decide who each character is, you need to find ways to introduce them to the audience. Here are three common shortcuts you can use to help people get to know your characters quickly:

1. Appearance (e.g. muscular or skinny; casual dress or formal; etc.)
2. Dialogue (Are they talkative or quiet? Do they use short sentences or big, fancy words? Is his voice strong and low or high and weak? etc.)
3. Behavior (how do they respond to a given situation.)

This book is about poses so I’m going to skip the first two and focus on behavior. There are two ways you can use behavior to show a character’s personality: by what they do and how they do it.

1. What They Do. When your character faces a problem, how do they respond? Suppose your character is a tiny grandmother.  While walking down the street, a thug pulls a gun and demands that she give him her purse. Does she obey? Does she refuse? Does she go on the offensive and start swatting him with her purse? Does she panic? Does she try to outsmart him? (“Hey, what’s that over there?”) Does she scream for help? Her choice tells us something about her personality.


2. How They Do It. Suppose this tiny grandmother has some moxie and decides to simply refuse. The next question is, how does she refuse? Does she cross her arms and put her nose in the air? Does she wag a finger in his face and say, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” Does she brush him aside and keep walking? Does she put her hand on his arm and say, “What you need is some warm milk and cookies”? Each response will tell us something about her personality and her outlook on life. The more you can say with a character’s actions the better.

Something as simple as entering a room can tell us a great deal about a person. On Seinfeld Kramer would always explode into Jerry’s apartment.  The door would fly open and he’d come skidding across the floor. That energetic burst, combined with his wild hair and crazy clothes, instantly told you what kind of person he was: Confident, free-spirited and eccentric. Before he even says a word you get a sense of who he is. That’s good visual storytelling.


Read two more Sparkbook Snippets: “Acting With The Entire Body” and “Personality and Emotions”. The Pose Drawing Sparkbook is now available for pre-orderAlso, don’t forget to download your free list of 100 Sketchbook Ideas as my gift to you.