Picture this: It’s Christmas morning and you and your siblings are all rushing downstairs to open presents. Your family is waiting for you and so is the Christmas tree which is decorated with lights, garlands, and dozens of colorfully wrapped presents. You take in the sight for a moment before you hurriedly begin searching the gift pile for one with your name on the tag. Once you find one you rip off the wrapping paper and gasp. Is it the present you were most excited about this year, sending you into a fit of excited giggles? Is it an unexpected gift that you don’t really know what you’ll do with? Is one of the gifts kids dread like a pair of socks or a new outfit?
Oftentimes, writing simple scenes can be one of the best ways to practice showing rather than telling how a character is feeling. For example, take the act of exchanging gifts at Christmas. Writing a scene like this will allow you to gain more insight into your character in a few ways. Firstly, the gifts themselves can reflect both on the character giving and receiving the gift. Does character A know character B well enough to get them a gift they’d actually enjoy? And, if so, what would that gift be? And secondly, writing about the exchanging of gifts in-scene allows you to play with characters’ reactions to show the reader whether or not they are excited about the gift.
For example, let’s say character A gets character B a pair of socks. If they’re the type of person who would like a pair of fun socks, they’ll exclaim excitedly, thank character A, and perhaps try them on right away. If that isn’t the kind of gift they’d enjoy, however, they may speak slowly, use phrases like ‘this is interesting’, and wear a strained smile that doesn’t quite meet your eyes. Whether or not character A even notices the reaction is another telling character moment as well- is character A intuitive enough to notice what the audience can clearly see?
Writing such a scene will also allow you to play around with a family dynamic as well. As a writer, your goal should be to be able to establish the nature of relationships as quickly and concisely as possible. Which family members are closest? Who is friends with whom? Is anyone currently fighting or is there any tension underscoring the current family dynamic? These are all questions that can be answered through a simple gift exchange.
Writing Prompt: Write a scene (either with characters from your manuscript or new ones) where a family or a group of friends are exchanging gifts on Christmas. Use the different beats and moments in the gift exchange to establish the characters as individuals, their relationship dynamics, and to make their reactions clear to the reader by showing rather than telling.