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Tips on Body Language

There are a few cardinal sins in terms of body language

The first is when disembodied body parts do things. Eyes do not roll, drop, run, scan, or travel. They cannot be glued or pasted. A gaze can be fixed. A gaze can travel. A heart cannot drop. It can beat hard. It can thump. It can't literally travel up your throat.

          Incorrect: Her fingers clenched.
          Correct: She clenched her fingers.

          Incorrect: His nose wrinkled.
          Correct: He wrinkled his nose.

The problem occurs when we try to cut out excessive pronouns by having the body part perform the action. I was guilty of this until an editor pointed it out at a conference.

My hand slapped my forehead, which brings us to the second cardinal sin: clichés.

The third cardinal sin is use of the same dull, repetitive body movements. We all cry, laugh, run, sit, stand, and walk. It's okay to have your characters do these simple movements sometimes. Some editors think these words are invisible, like said and asked. Others want you to change it up. Write the way you want. The important thing is to avoid clichés, purple prose, and repeating the same word too frequently on the page.

The key is to combine body language with interiority, actions, and words with mindfulness and purpose. If you show over-reaction to every single stimulus, it is overkill. Make sure that body language corresponds to, or contradicts, the emotion expressed for a reason. Thoughts and actions should not duplicate dialogue. Don't show a character feeling angry, tell us he is angry with an adverb tag, and have him shout all in the same sentence. Readers get it the first time.

Utilizing responses in an intentional way takes your work from bland to brilliant. It wastes time to perfect the first draft. As you write, throw in whatever standard crutches your brain reaches for. Write down enough that you have the intention of the scene. Dick has a fight. Dick sits or stands. He laughs, coughs, or frowns.

Write clichés and purple prose if it is what you normally throw in. Use the revision layer to rework the passages. Zoom your verbal camera in close to take in small details where it is most important. Widen the verbal camera's focus when you relate scenes of lesser importance. Continuous, play by play, in-depth detail makes your prose exhausting.

We'll talk  more about the revision layer next week.

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