As I read the excellent blog posts this past week here on 8LW, I couldn’t help doing two things: 1) ordering multiple resources recommended in the posts and the comments, and 2) contemplating gesture and physical interaction in my own WIP. I am woefully guilty of using my own short-hand in first drafts, words or phrases for which I’ll search later so I can replace them with better descriptions.
For example, in my current WIP, I seem to be fixated on sighing. A quick read of the scenes I’ve written this past week revealed more sighing than any person should be allowed (in reading or in practice) in a lifetime. These are placeholders for now, though, and when I’m ready to replace them, I’ll be turning to resources like Navarro’s What Every Body is Saying and Ackerman and Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus. But I also started looking at the ‘bodies in motion’ aspect of my book from a different angle, and the possibility of using it to help define characters not only through their own non-verbal clues, but how they read those clues in others, as well.
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you might recall that I am writing a book featuring three protagonists. While their three storylines intersect, each of these women has her own goal(s), protagonists, and if I do things well, will have her own voice. With each character’s POV, I change the cadence, word choice, and yes, habitual gestures (although for now, they all share that propensity for sighing. Go figure.) This week, when I was writing about protagonist Sarah’s encounter with her ex-fiancé at a coffee shop, I noticed that I was also paying attention to which things Sarah would notice around her.
Because I was ‘in Sarah’s head’ in this scene, I was capturing the gestures of her ex-fiancé which would catch her attention. Sarah is a once and future painting who is just rediscovering the joy of creating art with her hands. And in this scene, low and behold, she notices her ex’s hands a lot. Another character, Eileen, has been in an abusive relationship in the past. In the scenes in her POV (point of view), she notices other characters’ (especially men’s) sizes, the space they take up, the proximity to her own personal space. It’s not that she thinks ‘he was big and broad’; more like ‘he blocked the door with his body’.
I’m still working on the specific ways Maddie, the third protagonist/POV character, observes the non-verbal indicators of those around her. In a few scenes, she is acutely aware of any time another character touches her, and always has some reaction to it, sometimes positive, often negative. Maddie has battled serious illness and spent a lot of time in the care of doctors and nurses, being poked and prodded, with no say in the matter, which has left her acutely aware of touch.
Just as my three protagonists use different word choices and rhythms when they are thinking and speaking, they also pick up on different types of motion and body language. When I revise my WIP, I will be looking for scenes where I can add these kinds of details to further distinguish each protagonist in the reader’s mind. Do you use the ways your characters observe body language to help define them? Have you ever been able to tell which character’s POV you were reading in a book just from the way the author showed the character observing the world around her?
Nancy, that’s a really interesting way of looking at your characters. Now I need to go back and look at my characters and take a look at their speech patterns, body language, and observations to see if I’m presenting them consistently and effectively.
It’s easy to slip into another POV character’s voice during a scene, so checking that consistency is one of the tasks I always have on my revision checklist.
I don’t know if you have found this in writing historicals, but I think it is harder to develop separate voices in those because I am already paying so much attention to word use and speech patterns appropriate to the the time period for all the characters. By identifying what is important/ most obvious to them when they are observing the world around them, I hope to distinguish them better as their own people.
This is great food for thought, Nancy. Something else to add to my list of things to pay attention to in revision.
I love this post. I always write with multiple protagonists and POVs. Generally speaking I usually use the language they use in addressing others, their relationship to the other characters and who they interact with on a regular basis to help identify the character. (I write in first person so it’s harder to simply open up the next scene change with the character’s name and their current action). I have to make sure that the types of thought processes that I directly interact with have to be unique.
I have explored bodily ideas too. As a fantasy writer I deal a lot with magic, so some of the characters have that extra-sensory experience to explore. One of my characters who is not a magician has a very good sense of smell and uses it keenly to identify people, for example someone wearing perfume while he’s sleeping.
Oh and my characters sigh a lot as well – it either says something about them or something about us as writers sat sighing in front of our screens all day.
I think you’re onto something – the amount of character sighing on the page might be directly proportional to the amount of writer sighing at the keyboard ;-).
When I’ve written in magical worlds (urban fantasy), I’ve also written in 1st-person POV, but only one per book. Multiple must be quite tricky! I really like the idea of using the POV character’s ‘special talents’ in their scenes to define them because it also does double duty by keeping each character’s magical abilities affixed in the reader’s mind. Remembering who has what abilities is important when the characters inevitably pull out all the magic for the climax scene!
Sighing, yes, LOL. Everybody sighs in my books and they might be catching it from the author. Also, there’s a lot of generic smiling in my book, too.
I can see in my head that my characters are doing different things, and sometimes feel it in my body when I’m the POV. But, that doesn’t always make it onto the page. There’s too much other stuff going on, sometimes, and I can’t fit it in. Since I’m doing first draft stuff right now, I make a conscious effort to put the feelings/actions/gestures in parenthesis so I can easily “go back in the character’s head” when I rewrite. I hope.
I think the books are a good idea, but sometimes a good Google in the images can provide a lot of cues to how “angry” really looks, or frustrated. (-: Memorably, I once used Google to see what an angry woman who has been Botoxed looks like. That helped me put the words down on the page a little better.