Saturday, April 01, 2006

Bawdy Language

Make that BODY language.
That's my only tip to April One.
I don't go for this "April Fool" business - I don't care how ancient the tradition is among the villagers.
Always thought those things were sniggery and sadistic - but then I don't think it funny to deride innocent bystanders with a "HA-HA, you're an idiot!" deliberate kind of entrapment.
As you can guess I don't care for practical jokes either.
I'm a really nerdy, pain-in-the-ass that way.
Pardon the mild rant - back to the topic.

People have habitual characteristics and standard replies/favourite expressions.
People scratch their heads, pinch the bridge of their nose, or rub it, pull at an earlobe, steeple their fingers, cross their arms, twine their limbs around chair legs, narrow their eyes, flip their hair...
List goes on and on.
Some exercise certain actions only at certain times under the influence of a specific emotion.
Like in bed/pre-bed/when thinking of bed.
Or when they are confused/angry/surprised/pleased.
These gestures develop a character, individualize him/her and assist in the show-not-tell.
Judicious repetition of a favourite phrase or a gesture can be an instant code to the reader. A literary WTF.
Please though, avoid the shuffling of feet to indicate embarrassment and such like - unless you can describe it in a non-cliche way that doesn't sound as if you've picked it from a list of boxed emotions for a bobble-head action figure.

Oh sure, people produce these reactions in real life.
For example, when I'm particularly alert about something specific/interesting/dangerous/enraging, I either narrow my eyes or open them very, very wide.
Something the kids used to call "the Eyes of Death" - but nevermind that.

One should watch for the toss-off cliches regarding body language in fiction, 'cause they are really, really sneaky and can creep in like a bad joke while you're concentrating on scintillating dialogue and major action.

What's your favourite colonic irritation in cliche body language and how would you fix it?


Tsavo Leone said...

Damn! Now I'm gonna have to re-read my WiP and check up on this!

It's not something that I had ever given a great deal of thought to - I tend to worry more about over use of specific words in any given paragraph - but now I have a paranoid itch developing that requires scrathing.

"He gave a deep sigh, pursed his lips, and shook his head."

Bernita said...

There, there, sometimes there's no other way to say it, Tsavo.
Sometimes it's just natural description and causes no problem- is not of the cliche ilk.
I mean the over-used identity tags, like the heroine chewing on a curl of her glorious nut-brown hair - I'd sooner see her burning off the split ends with a cigarette or something.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I was going to play an April Fool's joke.

Then I couldn't find what I was going to use.

And I thought about a few things, but they all seemed cruel.

So I didn't do those either. Truthfully, the joke was emailed to me from Bonnie - I just modified the beginning slightly so people would think I was talking about myself at the beginning. I should hope by Day 5 they knew I wasn't.

I hope. Really, truly...

Lady M said...

B, don't know of any writing that annoys me but mine own.

I suppose the cliches of "narrowed her eyes and bit her lip" has been done. But - how else would you say it?

"Her eyelids got closer together and her teeth came out upon her lip almost piercing the flesh" ??

So you're absolutely right - a lot of them are unavoidable. Still - the usage of them is overwhelming. Skip to another scene. LOL!

Lady M

Bernita said...

That was humour, not a fool's con, Sandra.
And cute.
And really, I've been to your blog 4 or 5 times already this morning.

Bernita said...

Why have her bite/chew/mangle her lip at all?
And her eyelids can always slit like an envelope.
Actually I mean the repetitive signature characteristics - like the heroine always chewing on the tip of one slender finger,or tapping the end of her delicate nose - everytime she is contemplating whether or not to spend a dirty weekend looking for a sorcerer, how to escape in boy's clothing, or how to evade the leacherous advances of some fat rake.

Tsavo Leone said...

Having given it some thought, one could use those annoying character descriptions positively, utilising a third party's observation of said trait...

"M, will you quit biting your lip every time I say something like that... you're gonna draw blood!"

As with everything in writing, used sparingly it could alleviate the problem.

Bernita said...

Certainly, "yer mouth'll look like a door-scraper" will help alleviate the problem.
Must go through my Kathy Reich/Temperance Brennan series.
She has some beautiful variations on grinding teeth, for example, and she doesn't over-do it.

Sela Carsen said...

I have eye issues. My characters are constantly looking, glancing, glaring, peering, peeking, blinking. If you can do it with your eyes, they're working it.

Ric said...

I think we write those in because we are seeing our characters so clearly when writing them. (and want our readers to see the same thing).
But you're right, Bernita, they can be way overused to the point of grating.

For the most part, though, it's trying to convey what we're seeing and should be guarded against. The physical reactions are usually not necessary. The reader should already be picturing the shuffling of the feet when the nerdy guy shows up at the door of the Prom Queen.

Bernita said...

Oh, I see nothing wrong with mentioning a physical act, Ric, but the feet and the adam's apple bob are lazy, sneaky buggers.
People express nervousness in other ways besides convulsive swallowing and soft-shoe feet.
If he habitually shuffles, describe it a different way is all I'm asking.

Your character's eyes zoom around like a house fly, Sela? Perennial twitch? That's a bit different.

kmfrontain said...

"She bit her lip."

My favourite unfavourite, too. I have never met anyone that bit their lips when thinking, feeling nervous, or whatever. Only ever saw it on movies and read it in books. I swear I'd ban biting lips as a body language tool. Only time I've ever bitten mine was through accident. I haven't bothered to better the cliché, perhaps only switched to something less used. "Her lips thinned." I've used that instead. One does get thinner lips when compressing them through irritation or nervousness.

Bernita said...

Yes, if one is going to use an initialized action to indicate a character's habitual propensities, please try to find something not quite so standard, or at least describe it in a new and interesting way.
People have more indicative, perpetual habits than biting lips. Maybe they always grab the opposite shoulder and cock their headsideways.
Watch people.

Verbal tags idividualizing a character are a little more forgiving, but have to be used sparingingly to my way of thinking. He can't always say "my Darling","suffering succotash" or begin every sentence with "WTF."
Create a unique expletive, perhaps - but don't over-use it.

One technique I've seen is have everyone else use a nic when adressing a person and one character use the full name.

Reminds me of a guy who, long before LOTR, always called me "Precious".He probably called all the girls that.It identified him, however.

Dennie McDonald said...

I had someone complain once there was too much body business in my writing - but you see - I am a twitichy kinda gal - couldn't sit still if my life depended one it (cliche enough - LOL!) So I tend to use that in my writing as well...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well Bernita, too bad I couldn't find what I was going to put up...

It would've gotten a hearty laugh! I'm still looking for it (and it's a jokes on me kind of thing - a photo of me, actually.)

Bernita said...

Well, you must have used them well, Dennie.

Your eyes are like my daughter's, Sandra.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, KM, I do tend bite my lip when I'm writing.

So far, I can't see any of my characters having developed such a habit - that is, doing something with a certain regularity, and to introduce some 'because' would make for an ill fit.

For The Trees said...

I cured myself of nail-biting by sitting on the keyboard for long stretches. Now when I write about a character who's a writer I can use that physical attribute to contribute to the well-being of that person.

Or something. Personally I liked the colonic idea, it's a really irrigating thing.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Forrest, for that analysis.
Just one of the techniques, Gabriele. Perhaps yours are so vivid they don't need them.