Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gesture Crutches---Do You Use Them?

I was reading Jordan McCollum's blog post about the overuse of gesture crutches (you can read it here) and I decided to see if I was guilty of this myself.  Do I use a lot of sighing, shrugging, and nodding for my character gestures?

Shockingly, I do.

So I've been going through my manuscript (using the Find function) and deleting all the shrugging and nodding and whatnot and using more vivid gestures that can give my characters and story more dimension.  It's been a lot harder than I thought, but the more I've practiced and thought of other gestures, the more I've gotten to know my characters and what makes them unique.  For example, my main character cracks her thumb knuckles when she's nervous.  I never thought of that before now.  And I was so glad that Jordan had so many other great suggestions on her blog on how to fix this problem.

Another thing this exercise has forced me to do is to really look at body language and the tells that humans have in saying what they really feel without saying a word.  I've been people-watching so closely that I'm sure some shoppers at my grocery store thought I was a stalker or something.  (She's rubbing her chin to show she's really thinking about her purchase.  Wait, is she itching it or rubbing it?  Oh, hello.  No, you don't know me.  I'm an author, though.  Never mind.  *Julie walks away quickly*)

I have to say that I'm really excited about how this small thing has changed my writing and given me a fresh perspective on my characters and my story.  Just one little change took things in a whole new direction, making me dig deeper as an author.

Are you a gesture crutch user?

Go get your writing right now and see.  Then come back and confess in the comments.  


Janice Sperry said...

I am guilty of this but I'm working on a rough draft so it's allowed (for now).

My characters tend to smile a lot, especially before they're about to speak. They're a happy lot. I should do more to make them miserable.

Randy said...

This is something that gives me problems in my writing. Not horrible problems, but I do rely on head nods more than I should. Good job on noticing gestures of the people around you. I started a gesture journal, where I jot down examples of what has been used by other authors to give me ideas of what I can do myself. And then about a month ago I picked up "The Emotion Thesaurus" and that has been a tremendous help.

Debra Erfert said...

I love describing how my characters feel--through their movement. My book is mostly 1st person POV, but this week I was brave? enough to switch it up and write a chapter from the 3rd person in a different POV when the mc was in the hospital, unconscious, and the scene needed to continue without her to a certain point. When you write from the 1st person POV, you need to be able to "see" the other people around you having emotional responses, and the best way to do that is through description.

I just downloaded The Emotional Thesaurus onto my Kindle Fire a few minutes ago and I will give it a read through when I can, but from the brief perusal I just had, I can tell it has great information inside.

My main character in my WIP has a cast on her left forearm. She holds it to her chest when she thinks. This is a unique characteristic only unto her, but it also helps remind the readers she is vulnerable--or at least that's the impression it gives. She wields that cast like a club--when needed. It also is a link back to the previous book, hopefully to intrigue the reader enough to want to search out that book and read it also.

There are shrugs, (I assume the reader knows it the shoulders that gets shrugged. I've never seen a hip shrugged before,) head dips, sighs, heavy breaths, sharp intakes of breaths, and such, hopefully not so much it doesn't sound natural. I'm still in the rough draft stage. When I go back and read it from the beginning, then I will make that gesture chart I think Jordan is doing, and then I'll see if I've over done anything.

Jordan McCollum said...

Thanks for the shoutout, Julie!

I track this a couple ways in my writing. Like I say in the article, I write the body parts I'm using in the margin, and then read that list for a scene or chapter to look for patterns and repetition.

Then I use another trick I posted on my blog last Friday: a Word macro that cuts and pastes all the sentences that use a word of my choice into a new document. (My current macro repeats this for about 50 words.) Then I can look for patterns and overuse, etc., (both by term and across emotions/body parts) to by scene.

Jordan McCollum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jordan McCollum said...

Oops; double post.

Jon Spell said...

This is very interesting to me, Jon says as his forehead crinkles. I'm going to have to look through what I've written already to see what I'm doing. I know from memory I have sighing and letting out a pent-up breath.

There's a phrase in Hugh Laurie's book "he sucked his teeth" that I think I can imagine, but I remember stumbling over it when I was reading it.

I only wish there had been more examples, but I think the authors must just be hoarding their favorites. =D

Holly Vance said...

My characters sigh and furrow their brows quite often. But, I write about crime and horror, so I'm a bit limited in my gesture options. Can't have crime victims smiling and clapping, can I?

Or . . . maybe I can. Hmmmmmm.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Janice, here's my advice--think of people who annoy you. Then the miserableness comes easier. Ha!

Randy I agree on the emotion thesaurus. I like the idea of a gesture journal, too.

Debra! You're back! We missed you terribly. And you amaze me with your POV stuff. Really.

Jordan, sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky to be your writing friend. You're incredible. Thank you!

Jon, some authors are like that. :) Don't crinkle your forehead too much or it might stay that way. Ha!

Holly, clapping and smiling through crime and horror could add another dimension. :) I write suspense/thriller and there's a lot of tenseness so I completely understand where you're coming from. I really am excited about delving deeper into this. :)

Stephanie Black said...

Thank you, Julie and Jordan! This is definitely something I need to work on--coming up with fresh, unique gestures.

Jordan McCollum said...

Hugs, Julie! (And Stephanie!)

@Jon—my husband isn't familiar with that phrase either, but where I come from (which is NOT where Hugh Laurie comes from), that's a very common phrase. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

I was talking to someone in my critique group about this. Why are all my characters nodding all the time? Oh, because I made them nod. oops.

My protagonist clentches his jaw a lot. He'll probably have dental problems later in life is he doesn't stop soon.