Saturday, December 10, 2011

G is for gestures

I've been ruthlessly trimming body language from my WIP. This, along with excising the word 'that,' are two good ways to trim a too-high word count.
With the best of intentions, I wrote gestures and mannerisms. My characters grinned, shrugged, grimaced, nodded, and sighed. They eyed or raised their eyebrows, or both. They shook their heads, clenched their fists, balled their fists. Their hearts palpitated before sinking into the pits of their stomachs, a physical impossibility unless they'd just been gored by a berserk rhinoceros.
I realized my body language descriptions often echoed the dialogue: She shook her head. "No."
I'm now adding a few back in. Dialogue usually takes precedence over body language, but a well described gesture can serve a valuable function.
It can serve as a pause for introducing a new train of thought.
It can heighten tension by describing viscerally how love / pain / indecision / fear / agony / waiting / suspecting feels.
It adds drama when one character reads the body language of another and seeing a lie. Or the truth.
Gestures. I'm learning to use them wisely.


  1. Agree that some gestures are redundant, although, in the example you gave, one of those dreaded adverbs could tell us more about how she said no. Did she shake her head slowly or fiercely?
    As with everything, moderation is the key. Cluttering up dialogue or thoughts with too many gestures can get irritating for the reader, but a few well-placed ones can assist in showing, not telling, what the characters are feeling.

  2. Gestures can be a really great way to do that showing, not telling we're supposed to do as authors!

    But, I agree, sometimes too many makes the scene seem cluttered and takes the reader away from the emotion or the action.

    Good post!

  3. Too much of anything can be a bad thing, especially if it substitutes for a more precise word. Good luck with the manuscript!