Learning to Write XXVII
I have spoken before about the drawbacks of long and detailed descriptions. But here I would like to concentrate on how character development is created most satisfactorily, not in description, but in action.
In defining someone by their possessions, you do not do yourself a favour by writing, “She owned a Saab convertible,” nor by showing her driving to the supermarket in it. But when you show her trawling the city streets of Birmingham on a hot summer night, looking for a lost child, in the same vehicle, its top fully retracted, then your readers will learn something about the character.
“She owned a Saab convertible,” may be useful in indicating wealth, social standing or something about the character’s own image of herself, but it’s always going to be dull, whereas the Birmingham example tells us just as much about these things while furthering the plot and allowing us to develop on the basic facts of character.
You can use inactive ways of furthering character, but in fairness to yourself and your readers you should consider first searching for ways to develop character as much as possible in action and in friction with other characters. The contrast with a woman at home in her kitchen watching the washing go through its cycle, no matter what earth-shattering thoughts she may be having, is no contest.