Actions Speak Louder than Words – Right!

It is commonly held belief that actions speak louder than words. However, writers are often trained to bring a character’s personality out through dialogue. I would almost have to argue that both are completely out of line with reality. We (I’m assuming the rest of humanity does this) evaluate real people by listening to what they say and comparing that with what we observe them doing. The two sides give us a full picture of the person.

For example:

  • Dialogue: If someone keeps talking about all the government spending, the wasteful political excursions, the pork barrel legislation, and so on, then you get a certain feel for the person. This is a fiscal conservative.
  • Actions: If someone votes to expand benefits to the disabled, pushes for large government projects in their neighborhood, and signs checks that exceed current tax incomes, you get another impression. This person is quite the opposite of a fiscal conservative.
  • Interaction of Action and Dialogue: If someone flies around on taxpayer funded private jets to make speeches about fiscal conservative policies, then you get a completely different impression. This is a two-faced politician (and no, I’m not thinking of any politician in particular). It isn’t that he/she is lying on purpose, but they’re not living by the same standards as their dialogue projects – and there can be many reasons for this.

Seeing the whole person is about seeing how someone wants to present themselves and layer that with their actual actions. This is where result is greater than the sum of the parts. If you add in their thoughts or history, then you get even more layers with a better understanding of the character, but I won’t go into that in this post.

  • If you have a character where the actions are in line with the speech, then you have an honest character. Actions or speech alone cannot give you the same feel as seeing someone in harmony with oneself.
  • If you have a character where the actions and speech are not matched, then you have a dishonest character. Depending on how you slant it, it can be either dishonest with others or dishonest with oneself.

For me, the most interesting characters in fiction and real life have been those that have sworn and preached one belief system then have backed down from their talk when faced with a challenge. Later, after some reflection, they realize that what they were originally saying was an ideal they latched onto but didn’t really believe.

Just about everyone has parts of their lives that are honest and parts that are not – it is a part of being human. It is the analysis of someone’s actions paired with, or against, their words that provide a complete character.

About R. Garrett Wilson

I am a member of the Stanislaus World Builders writing group and have participated in the FSFW writing group. I have written one drama that was based on the book of Mark and performed at my church in 2007. My story, Journeyer, is published in Analog Magazine and a novelette, The Bakrra Encounter, in the FSFW 2010 anthology, I Dreamed a Crooked Dream. I also took part in the community novel project, Stanislaus Reads and Writes, and have a chapter in their novel, Ashes in a Teardrop. Beyond writing, I enjoy road trips, photography, woodworking, watching tennis and cycling, and reading.
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