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Revising Body Language

When the first draft is done, and you have thrown in all those placemarker words, read it through one passage at a time.

Underline every incidence of body language.

Then pull back and read through the chapter a second time.

Every scene should have a setup, a conflict, and a resolution that leads to a new conflict. You should have three or four key turning points in the overall story. They need the camera to slow down and take in the exquisite detail. Mark those level 1.

There will be three or four minor turning points. They deserve some attention. Mark those level 2.

There will be lighter moments that require little detail. Mark those level 3.

The rest are subtler conflicts that require the barest attention to detail. Mark those level 4.

The more heated the scene, the more important your actions and reactions are.

After you have identified the heat level of your scenes, highlight the critical encounter in each scene. 

Choose the sections you want to highlight judiciously and keep the verbal camera zooming in and out. Give your reader a satisfying ride. Don't stay focused for too long in any one spot. Don't zoom in on unessential details. When the details are important, spend more time describing the actions and reactions. When they are less important, use fewer words.

When you have action and reaction in a scene, examine it carefully. What should you add, keep, or cut? 

Have your characters used a body movement more than once? It is okay to portray a character with a specific tic, such as scratching his cheek when stressed, but you should not have him do it in every chapter. Reserve it for key scenes when it is important for him to be especially stressed. 

How many times have they smiled, grimaced, laughed, frowned, cried, pouted? Cut out repetition. Ask yourself if their reaction is important at that moment. Sometimes we put too many reactions in. Less is more. 

At any given moment, characters do multiple things. They think, feel, move, and/or speak. Each item brings something slightly different to the picture. Jane may feel angry, but force herself to speak calmly. Dick may play checkers with his child while worrying about work the next day or listening to a conversation Jane is having in the next room. 

At key points, the body language may not support what is being discussed. Use this judiciously. We will talk more about specific body movements later in this series. 

Next week we will look at the specific beats of action and reaction.

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