1. TDFuhringer
    Offline

    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    262
    Location:
    Somewhere South of Midnight

    Describing body & eye movements

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TDFuhringer, Jan 17, 2014.

    In the early stages of my rewrite I've discovered a pattern. I describe body language, full body movement, partial body movement, facial expressions, eye expressions and eye movements. A LOT. In fact these seem to be the primary method I use to communicate a character's emotional state and focus.

    eg. He looked, she stared, he glared, she glanced... He turned, she rose, he leaned, she slumped... He frowned, she smiled, he cringed, she furrowed her brow... and so on.

    Is there anything wrong with nearly constant description of this kind, so long as it keeps the story moving and is well-written? Keep in mind there is a massive emotional component to my storytelling, and less action and/or description of settings.

    Thanks! :)
     
  2. JayG
    Offline

    JayG Banned Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2013
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    358
    Location:
    Philadelphia PA
    Yup. What you're doing is talking about what the reader would see were they on the scene. That is not the same as giving them the picture you're viewing in your mind. Yes, that picture resulted in the words, but that doesn't work in reverse and give the reader your mental image. Instead it gives them a list of things within the scene, and the actions taken.

    Take a look at the opening to this graphic novel. Read a few pages. Then go back and read again, pretending that none of the pictures are there. Would the words, alone, give you even a fraction of the ambiance, the character's emotional state, or the setting were the pictures not available? No. But the words are exactly what you described. They talk about what's happening without showing it. So what you're describing is a graphic novel without the pictures.

    The trick is that if the pictures aren't there we need another technique to generate the picture within the reader's mind. And that's the craft of writing fiction for the printed word.
     
  3. TDFuhringer
    Offline

    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    262
    Location:
    Somewhere South of Midnight
    Very insightful @JayG . I took a look at Lost Side of Suburbia and tried what you suggested. I see what you mean. I appreciate your insight.

    I'm thinking (in line with your post) that rather than eliminate these movements, perhaps there's a way to supplement them. I think they are very useful for informing the reader, especially on a subconscious level. But you're right, they need something more, something... Just had a thought! I'm not using enough sensory cues, like sounds (other than dialogue) or images (other than setting description). Perhaps interlacing the action and dialogue with body movements AND sensory cues can help the reader build a better picture in their minds.

    This is something I need to work on. My former teachers and current beta readers always say my prose is lightning fast and smooth, but lacks description. Maybe description isn't the right thing for my style. Maybe sensory cues would be more powerful, since they convey emotion?
     
  4. JayG
    Offline

    JayG Banned Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2013
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    358
    Location:
    Philadelphia PA
    Try this article to get deeper into the character's POV. It can be a very powerful tool because it can place the reader on the scene, in real time, making the same observations and decisions as the protagonist. And, it puts the writer where we belong, in the prompter's booth.
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  5. TDFuhringer
    Offline

    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    262
    Location:
    Somewhere South of Midnight
    I'd say that article is about Swain's techniques, and I've got his book right next to me already, thanks ;) I need to go over it a few more times to get all the nuances and I need to practice it a lot more before I'm good at it. But I do have it.

    Ever since reading it though, I find it even harder to stop and add 'subtle brush strokes' because I'm so busy moving the action forward. I guess I just need to find the right balance via practice.
     
  6. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    what you need to avoid is micromanaging... what I call 'bibo' writing... as in 'breathe in/breathe out'... describing a character's every single trivial physical movement... most of which isn't needed...

    for instance, don't do this:

    instead of:


    ...the first example is bibo writing, the second follows that best of all writer's axioms, 'less is more' and its old army cousin, the 'K.I.S.S.!' principle...
     
    Andrae Smith and TDFuhringer like this.
  7. David K. Thomasson
    Offline

    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2013
    Messages:
    341
    Likes Received:
    122
    Location:
    Lynchburg, Virginia
    It's hard to say whether you're overdoing it or not without seeing an excerpt. Can you post a paragraph or two to illustrate this?
     
    TDFuhringer likes this.
  8. TDFuhringer
    Offline

    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    262
    Location:
    Somewhere South of Midnight
    Rat put a hand on his old friend's shoulder. “The more important question is, what are you going to do now?”
    Orgull frowned and pursed his lips. “This keep has been my home for centuries.” He waved his stick at the doorway. “The labyrinth has always been a part of my life.”
    Rat nodded. “I know.”
    Orgull sighed. “It's time, isn't it?”
    “Yes,” said Rat. “It's time.”
    Orgull rubbed his temples. “You understand, I have no idea how to shut it down.”
    Rat asked, “What do you mean?”
    “I only built the thing,” said Rat. “I didn't design it.”
    Rat thought about that for a minute. He put his hand to his face and groaned. “Don't tell me.”
    “Mmm,” said Orgull. “Now you see my dilemma.”
    Rat crossed his arms. “You're telling me (DELETED FOR SPOILERS)?”
    Orgull nodded. “I'm afraid so.”
    Rat threw up his hands. “I have almost no memories of that time. What am I supposed to do?” He got an idea. “Couldn't we just seal it up? Completely seal it? Lock it away forever?”
    Orgull leaned on the door. “We could. But if we did that, how could we be certain no one would break in? Or that nothing would break out?”
    Rat sighed. “I see your point. Wait, are there still creatures in there?”
    “Probably,” said Orgull. “but that's not the real problem.”
    “I'm almost afraid to ask.”
    “The entity.”
    Rat shook his head. “We killed it.”
    Orgull cringed. “Not... exactly.”
    Rat stared at him.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2014
  9. David K. Thomasson
    Offline

    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2013
    Messages:
    341
    Likes Received:
    122
    Location:
    Lynchburg, Virginia
    Here's a quick edit showing my first inclinations as to what I'd probably leave in, take out, or rephrase. It would be interesting to see how others would edit this passage.

    Rat put a hand on his old friend's shoulder. “The more important question is, what are you going to do now?”
    Orgull frowned and pursed his lips. “This keep has been my home for centuries.” He waved his stick at the doorway. “The labyrinth has always been a part of my life.”
    Rat nodded. “I know.”
    Orgull sighed. “It's time, isn't it?”
    “Yes.” said Rat. "Yes, it's time.”

    Orgull rubbed his temples. “You understand, I have no idea how to shut it down.”

    Rat asked,
    “You what?" do you mean”

    “I only built the thing,” said Rat Orgull said. “I didn't design it.”
    Rat thought about that for a minute. He put his hand to his face and groaned. “Don't tell me,” Rat groaned.
    “Mmm. ” said Orgull. “Now you see my dilemma.”
    Rat crossed his arms. “You're telling me (DELETED FOR SPOILERS)?”
    “I'm afraid so.”
    Rat slowly shook his head, stunned. “I have almost no memories of that time. What am I supposed to do?” He thought, then brightened a little. “Couldn't we just seal it up? Completely seal it? Just lock it away forever?”
    Orgull leaned on the door. “We could," Orgull said, "but we couldn’t be certain that no one would break in. Or that nothing would break out.”But if we did that, how could we be certain no one would break in? Or that nothing would break out?”

    Rat sighed. “I see your point.
    “Wait,” Rat said. “You mean there are there still creatures in there?”
    “Probably.” said Orgull. “But that's not the real there’s an even bigger problem.”
    “I'm almost afraid to ask.”
    “The entity.”
    Rat shook his head. “We killed it.”
    “Not ... exactly.”
    Rat stared at him in disbelief.
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  10. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    I'd say that there are a few too many actions and too many explanations--too many explanations because I'd avoid explanations whenever possible.

    Explanations that I'd lose:

    - "his old friend"
    - "he got an idea"
    - "thought about that for a minute"

    Movements that I'd lose:

    - "frowned and pursed his lips" The bigger gesture of waving the stick is plenty, and the small gestures of his facial expression, combined with the big gesture of the stick, clash for me.

    - "nodded" when combined with "I know." They're redundant.

    - "asked", when combined with a question mark. Also redundant.

    - "rubbed his temples". I don't think that it earns its keep, and it also comes right after a "sighed" by the same character which is somewhat redundant. Also, this character just waved his stick, so where did he get two free hands to rub his temples with?

    - "put his hand to his face" and "groaned" seem to communicate the same thing. I realize that a person can of course do both, but I think that the two actions clutter up the paragraph. Since he's speaking as well, I'd remove the groan. Also, he just put his hand on Orgull's shoulder so his hands seem to be getting too many stage directions. I realize that he has two hands, but the visual is getting complicated.

    - "leaned on the door" I can't see any significance for this action, so it seems unnecessary. Now, if he, say, shoved or kicked at a door that they wanted to open but couldn't, it would have some meaning.

    - "sighed" used twice in this short passage. If you keep either one of them, I'd keep Orgull's and lose Rat's. But I'd be inclined to lose them both. It takes time to sigh and for the sigh to hang there, and I don't feel that this conversation is that slow. If it is that slow, I'd rather see Orgull doing something more expressive with that time.

    - Rat crosses his arms and almost immediately throws up his hands. Again, his limbs seem over-busy. If you're intending to make a point of this--his arms folding up and then exploding into a gesture--I think that it somehow needs to be expressed differently.

    - "shook his head". This clutters the bald confidence of the statement "We killed it." and weakens the line.

    - Cringed. This clutters...same thing. If Orgull is stalling before answering, I'd use some other action.

    - 'stared' is fine. I don't need the 'at him.'
     
  11. TDFuhringer
    Offline

    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    262
    Location:
    Somewhere South of Midnight
    Thank you @ChickenFreak . I very much appreciate the explanation behind the edits. Knowing WHY something works or doesn't is immensely valuable!
     
  12. jaime
    Offline

    jaime Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2014
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    3
    I use the website imagerydictionary(dot)com to help me with description. Every time I want to describe a place, actions, body language, etc, I just go to that website. For example (whatever is in bold, I took from imagerydictionary.com):
    Before Imagery dictionary:
    We met at the concert and took our seats. Patiently, we waited for the celebrity to come out on stage. “I’ve been waiting for this forever,” she said, holding my hand. I realized being here with her was my remedy. Paying the money that I did was well worth it.

    ***​
    After Imagery dictionary:
    We met at the concert and took our seats ten feet away from the stage that stood proud in the center of the scene. Gasps of awe spread across the crowd as we waited for the celebrity to come out. “I’ve been waiting for this forever,” she said, grabbing me by the arm with a grin pinned upon her face. I allowed a weary smile to loosen my lips after realizing being here with her was my remedy. Paying the money that I did was well worth it.
     
    TDFuhringer likes this.
  13. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    whoever proposed the bold additions on that site seems to think we're still in the age of bulwer-lytton and his purple prose... besides which, none of it makes any sense...

    how can a stage stand 'proud' or gasps 'spread across' a crowd, a grin grab anyone by the arm, or a smile have the ability to 'loosen lips' [which is an expression that means to 'spill the beans' about something]?
     
    GoldenGhost and Andrae Smith like this.
  14. jannert
    Online

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,803
    Likes Received:
    7,320
    Location:
    Scotland
    Hmm. This is an interesting dilemma. I looked at what you wrote and I believe one vital element is missing from what you wrote. Thoughts and feelings.

    You've demonstrated everything with dialogue and arm-movements and facial ticks. But who is the POV character here? I really can't tell. Is it Rat? This is a lot like @JayG's graphic novel. Audial clues, visual clues ...and nothing else. No inner thoughts, no inner reactions to what's going on. We're not seeing any of this through a particular character's eyes, nor are we participating in anyone's thoughts and feelings.

    Just a few simple changes can make all the difference here. Obviously I have no idea where your story is headed, or what these characters really are like, but just for fun—this from Rat's POV :


    Rat laid his hand on Orgull's shoulder. “The more important question is," he said, keeping his voice as calm as possible, "what are you going to do now?”

    “This keep has been my home for centuries." Orgull's face went red, and he jerked away from Rat's comforting hand. “The labyrinth has always been a part of my life."

    Rat felt a stab of pity for his old friend. He did not want to upset the wizard any further, but this had to be done. “I know,” he replied quietly.

    Orgull shook his stick at the doorway, then turned away for several heartbeats. When he turned back, Rat saw his eyes were gleaming with unshed tears. “It's time, isn't it?”

    “Yes,” said Rat. “It's time.”
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2014
  15. TDFuhringer
    Offline

    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    589
    Likes Received:
    262
    Location:
    Somewhere South of Midnight
    Damn @jannert that's pretty good :D
     
  16. jaime
    Offline

    jaime Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2014
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    3
    Maybe I need help with my writing, however the website is still useful. For example you plug in the imagery so that it'll make since. Also, people are able to add imagery to the website, it's not perfect, nothing is. Let me demonstrate a better example:

    I love going to the mall on occasion, but not all the time. Crowded areas aren’t really my thing. However, I do have one store I enjoy the most. It was usually a very well organized store with lots of clothing that fits my interest. As I walked to its location I noticed that every person I passed had at least three bags in their hand. I smiled, realizing tomorrow was Christmas and was reminded to grab a few gifts not only for my loved ones but for myself.

    ***

    I love going to the mall on occasion, but not all the time. Crowded areas aren’t really my thing especially when I have to squeeze my way through the tight aisles or if the audio shop blasts out the latest hits through enormous loudspeakers. However, I do have one store I enjoy the most. It was usually a very well organized store with lots of clothing that fits my interest. As I walked to its location I noticed the every person I passed had at least three bags in their hand. Distracted, I stumble, bumping the man ahead of me. He turned to glare at me for a moment, just before making his way to a crowded bakery.

    After a few moments I smiled, realizing tomorrow was Christmas. Here, Christmas was like a yearly rummaging session, which was a great reminder for me to grab a few gifts not only for my loved ones but for myself.
     
  17. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    It illustrates it very well. The excerpt was better before you monkeyed with it. More modifiers do not automatically make the writing better.
     
    TDFuhringer likes this.
  18. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    Your imagery needs to be in your voice; plugging in things that come from someone else, especially many someone elses, is likely to make your writing rough and rocky as the voice keeps changing.
     
    Andrae Smith and Cogito like this.
  19. jaime
    Offline

    jaime Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2014
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    3
    More modifiers do not ALWAYS make the writing better, but in this case it did. You must use your own judgement.
     
  20. jaime
    Offline

    jaime Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2014
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    3
    I happen to disagree. In the excerpt that you've read, how has the voice change. Please explain.
     
  21. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    [​IMG]
     
    GoldenGhost and Andrae Smith like this.
  22. jaime
    Offline

    jaime Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2014
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    3
    It's not very complicated. No sale doesn't offend me Cogito
     
  23. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    There are a lot of good comments here already. I'll just add what I said on a similar thread before. Think about what is trying to be conveyed by what you're writing. Adding more movements tend to clutter a scene, particularly a scene that is supposed to be dialogue. If emotion is meant to be portrayed, then we need some level of interiority. Looking at objective movements leaves us to imply things without the visual or audible cues to recognize their motivations.

    One must also be conscious of how frequently you try to insert such information. Many times, it simply isn't necessary. For instance, less would be more in the snippet of dialogue provided. Instead of actions on every line, some thoughts after a couple of lines might give us more out of the dialogue. It wouldn't read so much like trying to watch a soap opera. Don't over dramatize the writing.

    That doubles for descriptions and imagery. Less is often more. While adding details and images may create a fuller picture, that's not always better. Think of it as a computer trying to render an image. The more details, the more information the computer has to render into the image, the longer it take. Similarly, the more you try to give readers in describing a scene, the longer it takes them to read a section. I really wouldn't want to read some bits of exposition, namely what's been provided in support of imagerydictionary.com. Granted, it may be a decent resource to help you think, but honestly, simpler is often better. You only want to add details that pull their weight to add to a story. If they are insignificant, then they should be left out. For example, we don't care that your MC bumped into the man ahead of her unless the man was someone important.

    You must also choose the appropriate voice for the story being told. A good guideline to follow is avoiding things that make your writing "sound like writing." I mean, when it comes to writing, everyone has this idea of what it sounds like, but all good writing is far more natural.
     
  24. jaime
    Offline

    jaime Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2014
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    3
    interesting input
     
  25. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    Inserting bits written by other people into your writing will inevitably alter your voice. I can't speak to that in detail here, because there's not enough of your own writing to judge.

    But there is enough of your own writing to allow me to get the meaning of your original pieces, and the inserted imagery is disrupting that meaning.

    In the first piece, why are people who are just waiting, with nothing happening, gasping in awe? A gasp is usually a response to a sudden and unexpected event. And is the narrator really primarily focused on that "proud" empty stage, or is he focused on his companion? The imagery of the stage suggests that the stage is what he cares about. "Grin pinned" suggests that the grin is artificial, forced in place, and suggests that his companion is not really happy. "Loosen my lips" is, as Mammammaia says, a phrase that signifies that a person who was unwilling to speak will now speak.

    In the second piece, "at least three bags in their hand" is clearly linked, in the original, with "realizing tomorrow was Christmas." That makes perfect sense.

    In the rewrite, those two concepts are separated by the bumping incident. What meaning does that angry man add? How does he clinch the realization that it's Christmas? Or if he does clinch it, if the character associates Christmas with angry, distracted people seeking baked goods, then why is the character smiling?

    Similarly, how does "rummaging session" remind you to buy gifts, and how does it add meaning? It again sounds negative, not positive, but it's inserted into an ending which is apparently supposed to be on a positive note.

    The originals communicated their message. By letting other people write the imagery, you've allowed that imagery to clutter up and to some extent eliminate that message.

    Edited to add: And I'm puzzled as to why you seem *angry* at the idea that your original writing is better than writing altered by someone else's words. Surely you'd want your own writing to be good?
     
    Mckk and Andrae Smith like this.

Share This Page