Hi SEers. John with you again. I hope you had a great weekend and am rearing to go this Monday morning. Grab a cup of coffee and join me in a discussion about character gestures. (I know not the most exciting thing for a Monday morning.)
Most of you don’t know that my books contain an unusually high amount of dialogue. For some reason, I love to write dialogue and write it without tags. Why a lot of dialogue, and what’s up with no tags? The quantity of dialogue comes from my training on “show don’t tell.” I know dialogue works as a show vehicle. Writing dialogue without tags is my method of keeping the reader in the story. I believe that tags can pull a reader out of the story, especially if they require the mind to do any thinking about the tag.
Here is an example of a tag that requires the mind to think about it.
“I hate you,” Larry shouted as he slammed the basement door.
The statement “I hate you” should stand on its own. What the heck does the basement door have to do with the words? See, the mind must figure that out, and as a result, reader progress slows down.
Slamming the door does show that Larry is mad. Still, the mind must figure all that out before the eyes proceed in the story. What does this have to do with gestures? A lot. One more thing, and I’ll explain why. Pure dialogue does not convey any emotion. Pure dialogue is only words on a page that communicate what is said. It does not give the reader any hint into how the speaker says the words. Let’s use a tag with the example above to show what I mean.
“I hate you,” Larry shouted. Yes, we have volume but no feeling.
Now to my point. I believe gestures allow the reader to understand the word’s intent instantly. For our example, let’s do this. I’ll throw in a gesture just before the words of dialogue. This will hopefully do two things. First, it will identify who said what. Second, it will SHOW emotion. Here we go.
Larry clenched his fist in front of his face and shook it at Leroy. “I hate you.”
Larry could have made several gestures to broadcast his feeling at that moment. He could have bared his teeth, tightened his eyelids, flared his nostrils, or even bitten his hand. But, yeah, that last one is old Europe.
In my next post, I will give you a list of gestures and what they can mean in terms of communicating the character’s moods. These gestures are pretty standard and employed by experts to read the nonverbal communications of our fellow humans. In the meantime, here is a snippet from my current WIP to give more than the one example above. No need for an intro since the dialog will speak for itself.
“Thank you for coming, my child.”
“Yes, Sir. I don’t often ignore the summons of the Archangel.”
The Archangel wrinkles his brow. “You’re funny, Samantha; I do appreciate your humor.
Sam frowns. “Is there something wrong, sir?”
The Archangel opens his hand. “Why should there be something wrong with me wanting to talk to you.”
Sam looks at the floor. “You are so busy, my grace, that to take time for idle conversation seems like a waste of resources.”
“Of course, I should be the judge of that.” The Archangel puffs out his cheeks
Sam looks up. “I meant no disrespect, sir.”
The Archangel smiles. “And none perceived my child.” He clears his throat and looks away. “There is a small problem.”
“Yes, sir?” Sam’s mouth starts a slight upturn at the corners. She catches herself before a smile appears. She thinks this is not the time to broadcast being right about trouble.
The Archangel touches his temple. “I’ll come right to the point.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Sam locks onto the Archangel’s eyes.
“We are missing a soul and his guide.”
“Sam’s hand goes to her mouth. “Missing? How is that possible?”
The Archangel raises his hand. “Before we get to that, please have a seat, and let me give you the preliminary details.” He points to a chair.
Sam immediately sits fully upright.
To review then. There are no dialog tags in this example. The reader clearly understands who is talking. The scene has a couple of themes. The first is that Sam has been summoned and is worried. The second is that the Archangel does not want Sam to believe an out-of-control situation is happening. The third, Sam is pleased she knew that some problem exists. Fourth, the Archangel can’t figure out any other way to present the facts than directly. The fifth Sam is taken back at the idea that a soul and guide are missing. The sixth Sam is now at full attention as to what is coming.
There are a few subtle things as well. The Archangel likes Sam and is a bit arrogant about his status in the hereafter. Sam respects the Archangel but does play into the arrogance.
I am not suggesting my way is the right way but perhaps a way that might prove helpful.
How about you? How do you separate different conversations among characters and demonstrate emotion? Let us know in the comments what works for you.