The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

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GeeGee55
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by GeeGee55 » March 23rd, 2010, 5:01 pm

I am always writing with my character's emotional state in the forefront of my mind. I think that's key to getting gesture right, and it may not occur in the first draft. I have a character who wears a hat and he takes it off in the presence of women, that says something about his character without me having to say it, how conventional and polite he is, at least on the surface. So situation, whether or not others are present, all contribute to the emotional state and what gestures the character makes.

JTB
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by JTB » March 24th, 2010, 7:27 am

I'm with SusieQ on this one

using too many gestures can read like the characters are a bunch of monkeys or suffer from ADHD, and I also don't see anything wrong with telling the reader what's going on for a character sometimes - think of Ian McEwan novel SATURDAY, obviously this is a master at work.

Take this line:
"The boy leaned on the cart and adjusted the wheel. What do you see? the man said. Nothing. He lowered the glasses. It's raining. Yes, the man said. I know." (The Road)

Simple. 'He lowered his glasses.' No more. He didn’t sigh heavily or breath in and then catch himself and instead etc etc, ‘He lowered his glasses.’ Simple, genius …

What we do with the things around us, what a character chooses to focus on, the language of the writing (check out Richard Price on this), the landscape, the setting, the pace and rhythm of the sentences can tell us far more than most gestures

Sighs and laughs and head shakes and facial expressions and all that have their place but are no substitute for establishing a character in the readers mind so that when the character is told that what they’re saying is a heap of nonsense, the reader already knows what’s going on with the character and no gesture at all can speak volumes.

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Matthew MacNish
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 24th, 2010, 2:57 pm

JTB wrote:I'm with SusieQ on this one

using too many gestures can read like the characters are a bunch of monkeys or suffer from ADHD, and I also don't see anything wrong with telling the reader what's going on for a character sometimes - think of Ian McEwan novel SATURDAY, obviously this is a master at work.

Take this line:
"The boy leaned on the cart and adjusted the wheel. What do you see? the man said. Nothing. He lowered the glasses. It's raining. Yes, the man said. I know." (The Road) I'm reading THE ROAD right now and Mr. McCarthy seems to be genius at this kind of thing.

Simple. 'He lowered his glasses.' No more. He didn’t sigh heavily or breath in and then catch himself and instead etc etc, ‘He lowered his glasses.’ Simple, genius …

What we do with the things around us, what a character chooses to focus on, the language of the writing (check out Richard Price on this), absolutely agree, in my opinion Price is the modern master of dialogue, especially when applied to awkward situations. the landscape, the setting, the pace and rhythm of the sentences can tell us far more than most gestures

Sighs and laughs and head shakes and facial expressions and all that have their place but are no substitute for establishing a character in the readers mind so that when the character is told that what they’re saying is a heap of nonsense, the reader already knows what’s going on with the character and no gesture at all can speak volumes.

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wilderness
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by wilderness » March 24th, 2010, 4:11 pm

Funny, my husband always accuses me of rolling my eyes (I'm cynical) and I always accuse him of sighing (he's grumpy). It's not that these gestures aren't true to real life but, yes, the repetition, repetition is boring.

Yes, you can try to find unique ways of expressing the same thought. Of course it's hard to do that hundreds of time throughout the course of your novel.

You can try to include it on your dialogue but it might not be totally true to life. So much is conveyed in a speaker's tone -- and yet it is the writer's difficulty that our words can't talk! Still, they say that dialogue isn't necessarily how people would talk in real life (you should remove the mundane) and is instead a sort of hyper-reality that should read true. And I hope that your characters are funnier and wittier than most real people!

I agree with the post above that if you've established your character as cynical and eye-rolling or grumpy and sighing at the beginning of the novel, you don't have to keep repeating it. Once the idea has been planted in the reader's mind, I think they will continue to read that character's dialogue with his/her "voice" in mind. Then, perhaps you can highlight only when the character is acting out of character. Food for thought.

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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by mojo25 » March 24th, 2010, 11:50 pm

I'm definitely overuse eyerolling--it's so useful! One of my mss had an overabundance of sighs. But I'm not really using these so much in my new WIP. But I'm not sure why. I think I'm trying to get across those feelings through dialogue and a beat--ie, a little extended action between dialogue rather that say "she sighed, she smirked" etc.

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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by brandi_fey » March 30th, 2010, 4:30 pm

I tend to overuse "eye gestures". Not necessarily eyerolls, but eyes flashing/darkening/brightening/narrowing, etc. Yes, it's my weakness so usually I have to revise and revise some more before its down to a reasonable number in my MS.

Me, I'd rather see a physical gesture than a dialogue tag. I feel closer to the character by their actions.

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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by Margo » April 5th, 2010, 1:10 pm

*shakes her gesture crutch menacingly*

So, um, yeah, I resemble this remark. I have, however, sucessfully overcome the gesture tick, wherein a character habitually performs a meaningless gesture while the writer figures out what to write next. The cure is repeated exposure to Robert Jordan Wheel of Time novels, wherein the (almost interchangable) female characters repeatedly play with their hair and their skirts.

(No offense to Robert Jordan fans. Just not my cuppa.)
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Paolito
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by Paolito » April 9th, 2010, 8:50 pm

Body language is my biggest challenge among many challenges.

Think about the actor’s task (very similar to the writer’s task). Because screenwriters rarely give body language directions, the actor must find ways to move his or her body which are consistent with the character and consistent with what’s going on in the scene (stimulus and response.)

Meryl Streep is a master at body language. In The Bridges of Madison County, she fumbles her way up the stairs, brings a hand to her mouth, scratches her head, fluffs her hair, swipes for the alarm clock, gets into the chair sideways, doesn’t sit facing table to eat, tucks right hand under left armpit, covers face with hands, puts finger in ear, arm inside blouse, pats her stomach, strokes the inside of her upper arm, says grace alone, jumps when the screen door slams, kicks fridge with her foot, bumps/closes dresser drawer with hip, grabs by chin and pushes away, wipes hands on skirt, wears bare feet, runs hand up and down arms as if cold, scratches temple, puts hands over breasts, above, smoothes lips, looks past him, twiddles her hair with one finger, stops fidgeting once the connection is made, raises shoulder as if it doesn’t matter to her but it does, raises legs off the floor and then leans over at the waist to laugh, stomps cigarette in the ashtray to stop conversation, does up his shirt buttons, caresses shirt on the way down, when she expects rejection she turns her head away, grips bottle with both hands especially around neck, sighs in the middle of a positive comment making it seem as though the comment is not brilliant, when her family is gone she lets her hair down, constantly touching herself, a woman in conflict. Each of her movements fits her character and the moment.

Watch people everywhere; even watch yourself.

Would that I could do what Meryl did in that movie in every novel I write.

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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by Damon Shulenberger » April 11th, 2010, 1:48 pm

Gestures... yes, a problem if overused. I think of the basic ones––sighs, smiles, etc. as being like “she said” at the end of quotations. They are just place markers, the reader skips right through them. Having emotional depth, interior monologue, description of surroundings, etc. in the mix minimizes their repetitive and deadening effect.

Karalee Thornock
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by Karalee Thornock » April 12th, 2010, 2:57 pm

Hi, new to this forum, however, I have been a member for a bit. I just had to add my thought on gestures. I agree with some of you, I love them. In fact, I just finished reading a book with little on the way of describing gestures, and I have to say it rather bored me. I liked the story line, just not the way it was written.

That being said, I do agree that over doing the gestures will cause repetition.

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sierramcconnell
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by sierramcconnell » September 9th, 2010, 5:50 pm

My biggest problem that I've found in my MS so far is that a lot of people seem to be TAKING A BREATH or BREATHING or AFTER A BREATH.

I think there's an oxygen shortage in this world. But after fifteen betas, no one has called me on it. But I notice it. Should I do something? [panic] Maybe it's just me!
I'm on Tumblr!

The blog died...but so did I...and now I'm alive again! OMG.

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maggie
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by maggie » September 9th, 2010, 8:30 pm

This is horribly embarrassing (and funny) but since it showed me this exact thing about an early part of my first draft, I just have to show you.
Word has an "AutoSummarize" feature, which I guess takes the most common words and phrases in whatever block of text you give it and somehow makes a little summary out of them. I saw someone do this their blog and it was so cool, so I had to try it with one of the early chapters of my first draft. You can choose various lengths of summary, and I went for the shortest, and what came out was so funny that I had to save it to embarrass myself with in the future:

SUMMARY
Avery shrugged. Avery nodded. Avery shrugged. Avery nodded.
Avery thought. "Avery!" Avery screamed.
"Jack!" "Avery!" Avery nodded.

Wow. Needless to say, it was a wake up call to STOP IT. :) I'm just glad I found out early on...though keeping an overuse of them out of my writing is still a struggle!

One of the Mad Ones
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by One of the Mad Ones » September 10th, 2010, 12:13 am

maggie wrote: SUMMARY
Avery shrugged. Avery nodded. Avery shrugged. Avery nodded.
Avery thought. "Avery!" Avery screamed.
"Jack!" "Avery!" Avery nodded.
Maggie, this is hilarious! And now I'm off to summarize my own wip.

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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by amyashley » September 10th, 2010, 10:03 am

I think I do it pretty well. I do find that particular characters will develop habits, but I crack jokes at myself in my own writing.

For instance, I noticed my character Sam smiles a LOT, so as soon as I noticed it, I had him smile, then another character, whose POV the story is written in, thought to herself that "he smiled an awful lot for a guy in the middle of a crisis situation".


As far as advice, I think that observation is best. Watching people closely when they talk. Go to places like the park, mall, or airport and just observe for an hour. Write down all the different expressions you notice that convey emotion.There is such a tremendous array: squinting, wrinkling one's nose, waving arms, pointing fingers, stomping feet, shaking heads, shrugging shoulders, clenching jaws, wrinkling foreheads, softening around the eyes, pursing the lips, winking, batting eyelashes, tossing hair, twirling hair, rubbing just about anything, crossing arms, clenching fists, reaching out a hand and dropping it, the list is endless. If you have trouble, it might help to make a LONG list, categorize it and keep it handy. Then you can refer to it and use it like you use a thesaurus. Eventually varying your emotions will become second nature like varying adjectives.

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Whirlochre
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Re: The importance (and difficulty) of gestures

Post by Whirlochre » September 10th, 2010, 11:39 am

This is a conundrum.

Too much shrugging, sighing and eye rolling, and you have a sci fi novel where humankind is slowly obliterated by evil aliens with irritating nerve agents.

Too little, and you have a play.

The gestures to watch are the common ones, like those I've listed. In every chapter, I try to keep them to a minimum, maybe one of each, max. The one sigh, the one shrug that matters most. Beyond that, I try to remember that as scenes unfold, characters are not necessarily reacting just to each other. There is also the setting, the props, and the situation, about which characters can have revealing thoughts and emotional seepages. Actually, in a book about irritating nerve agents, they can have plenty of emotional seepages, possibly drowning the protagonist in them.

What bugs me most is clumsy replacements for these everyday feely-thinky shoehorns. You can't stop people sighing, any more than you can stop them using necessarily clarifying context-relevant adjectives, but if the sigh is the aptest, most invisible mechanism available for the sentence in which it seems to fit, maybe it's better to leave it than trying to teleport in some glossy phrase that draws too much attention to itself.
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