Monday, August 30, 2010

physical gestures

Along the same lines as the last entry—thinking about being specific. Avoid generic physical gestures. We need physical description to make a scene real but having someone drink a glass of wine or light a smoke, say, during dialogue just to get some physical gestures into the manuscript won’t do much to improve it. It might even work against the scene’s momentum and undercut the reader’s confidence in the writer.

Just as the description needs to communicate something more than generic, paint-by-number scenery, physical gestures need to communicate more. Everything has to be loaded with the expression of the moment-by-moment life of a scene.

This is hard to do and, if you’re like me, it will take many revisions to get past the generic to the particular.

Or so I think today.


Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

I agree that descriptions should go beyond the generic or at least those overused in a particular manuscript. (Too much nodding anyone?)

But I also think that sometimes the rhythm of the language calls for a beat, and it's okay if, once in a while, it's just a nod.

You get the pause, and maybe for a that moment, the nod is just the right thing.

Brian Yansky said...

Thanks for the comment, Cyn. So true: the nod can be the main form of communication. (He nodded. She nodded. They nodded together.) But I get what you mean. Sometimes a physical gesture has as much to do with the rhythm of a scene as adding to character or plot.

Vonna said...

Cynthia is right that a well-placed nod keeps the scene moving, but I agree with Brian--physical gestures say so much. When I think of someone I know well, it is not their hair color or height that comes to mind. It is their trademark gestures that let me know what they are thinking or feeling without them ever saying a word. These gestures bring as much life to characters as their dialogue.

Brian Yansky said...

That's interesting, Vonna, that the gestures are the first thing you think of. It makes me think that repetition of a certain gesture or gestures could be a good way to kind of mark a character.

Jemi Fraser said...

Good point - having every gesture pack a punch makes for much stronger writing! :)