Articles / On Writing

Quick Tip: Magically Moving Characters


Have you ever noticed that sometimes characters just appear in scenes or move without action? Yeah? Me too. And it drives me crazy to be honest.

Now you may wonder why that is a problem? Well, it’s because it disconnects the characters from the story. And it is in that moment that they become pawns instead of characters.

Characters should not move about a scene as if the author has waved a magic wand over them. Instead, your characters should be introduced into a scene and be seen moving about that scene. When characters are moved about a scene in a way that isn’t under their own power, it creates a sense of disembodiment for the reader.

This issue is generally born of setting-driven writing and not character-driven or action-driven writing. Setting-driven writing is stationary. Things don’t move around a lot, and in this type of writing, you will see a lot of words and time given to describing furniture, drapes, the environment, fashion, etc. And this is okay to a point, but it can lead to a scenario where an author begins to treat their characters in the same way. The cure is to focus on the movement in your scene instead of the setting: dialogue, body language, touch, sound, sight, action, etc.

Basically I recommend that you treat your characters as if they are real, not Barbie Dolls.

For example:

Anthony was standing beside the long mahogany bar as the lights of the club shimmered and writhed around him.

“Hey, baby, what’s up?” he asked the tall brunette who appeared at his side.

Does this leave you asking questions? Who’s Anthony and how did he get there? Why is he at the bar? Who’s the woman and where did she come from? Of course it does!

Sentences like this make it seem as if this Anthony character just dropped out of the sky and into this club. And in essence, that’s exactly what happened.

When you notice this type of issue, try making your character an intrinsic and necessary part of the scene instead of a prop in the setting.

For example:

Anthony sauntered into the nightclub. He paused just inside the entryway with a smirk twisting his lips and closed his eyes. He let the pulsing beat of the song wash over him. He liked this music, the atmosphere, this period in time. His soul stirred within him. He’d missed this. The unwashed masses, the way the intoxication of the human dregs poisoned the air, the oblivion, the party. It felt like home.

And he hungered for their sin.

Suddenly, tingling erupted along the back of his neck before spreading across his skin like a brand until a blazing collar tightened its grip around his throat. He gritted his teeth, emitting a low growl.

A gatekeeper, he thought. They’d found him earlier than he’d expected.

“Go to the bar,” a distinctly female voice whispered in his mind. “We have much to discuss. Ground rules for your visit, among other things…”

Anthony could almost hear the smug smile in the gatekeeper’s tone. Worthless church bureaucrats, every one of them.

He nonchalantly cracked his neck before rolling his shoulders. The pain intensified and he hissed. “Keep your habit on,” he muttered before stalking toward the overcrowded bar. “I’m coming.”

He nodded at the harried bartender and tapped the sticky surface in front of him. The pierced and tattooed girl slid a beer in his direction with barely an acknowledgement. He lifted it to his lips but paused as the wintry chill of the gatekeeper’s presence washed over him.

“Now, now. We mustn’t be a bad boy just yet.” Her tone was cultured, British, if he had to guess.

He knew he shouldn’t—the gatekeepers were Puritan-like control freaks with a hardcore holiness fetish and the power to enforce it—but he downed his drink in one go. It burned his throat and stomach like acid; it probably was. He slammed the bottle down on the bar and said in a rasping tone, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Your kind never does.”

He turned in her direction and froze. This was a surprise. Instead of the uptight matron who counted the squares of toilet paper left on the roll, his handler was young and lush, ripe hips and full breasts. Tall, long legged, brunette.

He licked his lips and grinned. “Hey, baby, what’s up?”

She glared at him. “Down boy.”

“What’s the fun in that?”

“My father did warn me that you were a disgusting, degenerate libertine heretic.”

Anthony nodded. “Then he is a better judge of character than I expected. But is that any way to speak to the guy who is here to save your pathetic little world?”

“He also said you were a devil.”

Anthony’s grin widened. He leaned close and fingered the rapidly pounding pulse at the base of her throat. “Oh no, sweetheart, that’s where you’ve got it all wrong.” His lips brushed her ear as he spoke and she gasped. “Didn’t you get the memo? I’m an angel.”


Like the example above, move your characters naturally through scenes instead of dropping them into places. Use the setting to enhance the characters and the scene in general and not overwhelm it. Not only will it make things feel more natural, but it will really open doors in your imagination.

Now back to writing. 🙂


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