She shook her head. He nodded. I smiled. They turned. There is nothing innately wrong with these character actions but there when they are the only verbs you are using for your characters, you are doing it wrong.
When I got my hands on The Writer's Lexicon for the first time, my eyes were opened to all the things I was doing wrong. My characters smiled too much. They turned to and away from one another constantly. Too often, they "watched" one another do something.
It was time for a change.
There was only one problem: I needed some actions to replace my overused ones.
That's when I found Valerie Howard's Character Reactions From Head to Toe. I admit I was nervous at first. I didn't buy the book when I first ran into it. The book seemed (and is) self-published. It wasn't in the library so I couldn't borrow it for free. It wasn't on Thriftbooks so I couldn't get it cheap second-hand. My only option was full-price on Amazon.
I then discovered the book was only $5. It has 5 stars from 139 Goodreads users. And a 3.98-star rating overall. I bought it.
The book is a very quick read. I knew it would be after reading the Goodreads reviews but I was still surprised at how fast it went.
Character Reactions From Head to Toe has a total of 88 pages. Of those pages, about half are filled with lines that the author provides for the reader to include actions of their own. This might have been helpful for another reader but for me, it was a waste of space and paper. I would rather record other actions in a notebook if need be. Plus, I have other books that provide action ideas. I didn't want to write them out in this book.
While the blank lines were annoying to me, the rest of the ideas were excellent. I really appreciated the suggestions for different actions. I didn't count them all by any means but the number of actions provided seemed about right for "1,000" (the number the author claims to provide you with). So the book gives you exactly what it says it will.
I did already know a number of the actions included in the book. By "know" I mean I had already thought of them or literally had already used them in my novel. When I read through my book, I took the time to write down the ones I thought I might use on a few post-it notes which I scattered throughout the book. These were the actions I thought I might use but hadn't thought of before (or needed a reminder of). By the end, I had five post-its with about 75 actions on them. Actions I liked included things like:
Raking fingers through hair
Upper lip sweating
Picking at a scab
Flexing in anticipation
The author organizes her book by body part (similarly to Kathy Steinemann's Writer's Body Lexicon). For each body part, she lists a number of different actions and then provides space for the reader to list their own. While some of these were good, others felt very "emotional" or intangible for me. There were a lot of actions I couldn't see or touch (if that makes sense). I'm talking about "blood bubbling" "bones liquefying" and "chest feeling burdened" and "heart stopping." These weren't as useful to me.
For $5 this is a handy tool if only to get your mind thinking about the different kinds of actions your characters could be participating in. It can give you one more tool in your toolbox and help you to ensure all of your characters' bodies move (not just their heads, shoulders, and faces). I'd suggest checking it out if you haven't yet.