HATE DIALOGUE WITH GESTURITIS?
Using body language effectively.
Ever been distracted by dialogue where every line was followed by a gesture made by the speaker? Often, a simple “he said” or “she said,” will do. All writers have favorite gestures they sprinkle through the dialogue of their novels.
Some of the most ubiquitously used are:
Sighing, grinned, smiled, frowned, shrugging, glaring, sitting, looking, pausing, chuckling, bolting, smirking, staring, breathed, nodding.
Writers use gestures and body language as speech tags or as ways to identify the speaker. What you don’t want to do is bore the reader with them!
It’s easy to critique your writing is by doing a search of your manuscript for any body language you suspect you’ve overused. A yawn, blink, or grin can be used occasionally, but original phrasing and fresh observations are always better. Try to use gestures that reveal something about the character or the situation. A glut of position-shifting description is not action. It’s fidgeting, and will encourage a reader to drop your book out of sheer frustration.
When checking your work for gesturitis, study your usage and ask:
1. Do the gestures add value by deepening characterization?
- If not they’re merely a collection of tics and fidgets.
2. Have you included any redundancies?
- e.g., “nodding in agreement,” or using a gesture to describe what the dialogue already mentioned.
3. Whenever possible, use a gesture description to show what a character is feeling, rather than just state the emotion.
4. Make every gesture serve a purpose.
5. Use your computer’s search feature to check for repetitious use of gestures.
As a reader, and I still manage to read a book a week, I hate the use of constant body movement to identify characters in dialogue. I think the reader wants to know who is speaking, but if the dialogue is compelling, frequent identifying of the speaker by his name, followed by “said” is much easier to read.
I’ve written this post is for both authors and readers. I’m hoping you readers will comment, letting us know if you even notice overused gestures. It's possible, the average reader, once involved in a book he enjoys, will not necessarily be put off by them as long as the writing in general is good. However, readers are becoming more critical as many new writers enter the book market and great numbers of them do so too quickly, overlooking the importance of editing and proofing their writing.
So readers, tell us what you think!
Hope all of you are enjoying your summer,
Note: The term “gesturitis” and some of the commentary on this subject, is from Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery. I highly recommend the book for anyone who writes mysteries, thrillers or suspense.