In the wonderful movie Warrior, a science teacher who moonlights as a fighter talks with his wife late at night while he repairs his girls’ dollhouse furniture. This is a brilliant action that tells you so much about the kind of guy he is, and it makes their conversation about bad financial news all the more compelling.

In fiction, giving your characters something to do while they talk can also add more depth or interest to the conversation. Additionally, it opens up new ways for them to express themselves through movement and body gestures. If someone’s having an argument while he unloads the dishwasher, he might bang the pots and pans around. If she’s jogging with a friend who tells her something shocking, she might stop in her tracks.

If all the conversations in your story consist of people sitting and looking at one another, you might want to mix it up. Here are a bunch of things your characters could be doing while they’re talking. In some cases, maybe only one person is doing the action, while in other cases, both or all of the characters may be doing it.

Some actions may underscore the conversation, and others may provide an ironic contrast to it. I made most of these things pretty normal and everyday, but some of them are more unusual. The list will probably make you think of a lot more things that could work for your characters or your story.

Writing Dialogue: 50 Things Characters Can Do WHILE They Talk #nanowrimo #how to write a novel

  1. Walking the dog.
  2. Playing with a dog or cat — fetch, a laser pointer, etc.
  3. Hiking or bicycling.
  4. Folding laundry.
  5. Gardening or planting a tree.
  6. Digging a hasty grave.
  7. Shooting at a firing range.
  8. Decorating for a party, Halloween, or Christmas.
  9. Wrapping gifts.
  10. Polishing or repairing weapons or armor.
  11. Sharpening a sword or kitchen knives.
  12. Brushing or braiding hair — their own, or someone else’s.
  13. Painting their nails, or someone else’s nails.
  14. Getting dressed or undressed (or helping a kid get dressed, or trying on different outfits.)
  15. Sewing, knitting, or crocheting.
  16. Getting a tattoo. Or giving one.
  17. Counting change, and/or making rolls of dimes or quarters.
  18. Packing a bag.
  19. Going through boxes of old stuff in an attic or basement.
  20. Unpacking boxes in a new home.
  21. Washing a stain out of something.
  22. Cleaning up a mess — like spilled food or drink, an overflowing toilet, or a smashed lamp.
  23. Building or tending a fire.
  24. Playing golf or mini-golf.
  25. Playing cards.
  26. Playing basketball.
  27. Untangling a necklace or a fishing line.
  28. Lifting weights.
  29. Taking an exercise class.
  30. Cooking, baking, or grilling.
  31. Doing the dishes or putting dishes away.
  32. Painting a room.
  33. Showering.
  34. Putting on makeup.
  35. Shaving.
  36. Woodworking.
  37. Dancing.
  38. Sparring.
  39. Punching a punching bag.
  40. Grocery shopping.
  41. Restocking shelves or pricing items.
  42. Watering houseplants or feeding the fish.
  43. Giving someone a shoulder or foot massage.
  44. Going through a place searching for something.
  45. Tending to a wound, drawing blood, or giving someone a shot.
  46. Browsing in a bookstore or library.
  47. Fixing a motorcycle.
  48. Changing a tire.
  49. Changing a baby’s diaper.
  50. Collating and stapling papers.

If you have any advice about combining action with dialogue, or you’ve done it in a way that worked out well, let us know in the comments. Happy writing!