I'm going through a very gruel editing process right now, which is why I've neglected visiting everyone's blogs. I promise to get back on track. But this editing business is cruel. I have a lot of bad habits.
Many of you know I'm a big people watcher. As far as how that translates into my writing, I'm finding that each book I write is filled with a particular set of gestures that I tend to overuse. I've also been beta reading a lot, and I find that I'm not alone.
Here are my big gesture crutches:
1) Smiled. I will use the FIND feature in Word, and I'm always aghast at how many times my characters smile. It's crazy. I will try to use other ways to describe a smile, or maybe use a synonym like grin or smirk. If you are a true writing master, you can also craft proper dialog that conveys that a character is smiling.
2) Nods and Head Shakes. Sometimes, I feel like my characters have fits of Tourette's or something. Lots of head movement all over the place. Again, I hunt them down and see if I can cut them. The best thing I can do is to write excellent dialog that makes it easy for the reader to imagine a character nodding or shaking their head. Most often, I find that I'm being redundant:
James nodded. "Yes, I'll drive you to the airport."
Nodded is not necessary in the example above. He already says "yes."
3) Gazes and Glances. When I find a bunch of gazes and glances, it seems like my characters have ADD. They just can't FOCUS. If it's my POV character that's doing all the gazing and glancing, I'll cut it and just describe what the heck they're looking at.
James gazed at the swings swaying on the empty playground. The swings swayed on the empty playground.
By directly showing you what James sees, I'm actually removing a filter between the reader and the character. As I said before, expertly crafted dialog can also help you do away with these overused gestures, including gazed and glanced.
4) Eyebrow Rumba. Do your characters' eyebrows furrow, raise, or draw together? Mine do. I try to rework as many of them as I can. I also stick this gesture to one character so it becomes part of characterization.
5) Eyes Narrow and Widen. I don't use "widen" as much as "narrowed." Lots of my characters get pissed and their eyes tend to narrow. If I find that I'm using this gesture as a crutch, I'll rework some scenes. Often, I'll just cut it and write good dialog and action that helps the reader imagine the eyes narrowing.
James found the body of his beloved on the floor, the crimson pool growing beneath his fiance's limp body. "They will pay." He pounded his fist through the drywall. "I will kill them all." With this very intense scene, doesn't it seem anti-climatic to even include some kind of gesture here? At finding his woman dead, his eyes narrowing or brows furrowing don't do it justice. The scene itself, along with the dialog, gives the readers the freedom to use their own imagination to construct the visuals. No need to spoon feed your readers!
Like all crutches, mine change. And there's a bazillion more overused gestures out there. Many of mine also include:
The key to gestures is to make sure you're not overusing them. Also, personalize a few of them. Maybe one character always strokes his beard when he's thinking. It takes more skill to write dialog that lends itself to the reader imaging the proper gestures during a scene. Like my example above of James finding his fiance dead. Obviously, we can picture him very angry and intense.
I bet his brows are furrowed.
* Thanks for all your kind words last week. Snoopy passed away very peacefully in my arms at the vet's office. I held held his blanket-wrapped body, and I felt him take his last breath. When his muscles relaxed, and the doctor verified he was gone, I felt relieved. Sad, sure. But I was relieved that Snoopy was no longer in pain. When I came home, my 7 month old puppy jumped on me (a habit I'm working to correct), and reminded me that she needed supper.
Blogging since 2005.
Medical sales warrior by day, writing ninja by night...
I am the author of The Mechanica Wars series. The first book, Dragonfly Warrior, will be published in January, 2014 by 4 Wing Press.
I love science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, biographies, and chocolate chip cookies.