Sunday, February 18, 2007

Roar of the Crowd

Tango Noir et Rouge,

by Jaurez Machado.

Oil and limited edition prints.

In a comment on A Malignity of Ghosts about the choice of the word saunter, Scott made me think about walking style as a character/attitude indicator - and why it might be under-utilized in fiction.

The fact is, I suppose, that many people don't walk anymore, and contemporary fiction reflects this.

Movement of characters is described in sets of largely communal scenes - in subways, elevators, offices, cars and airplanes.

Their body movements are expressed in terms of how they lounge in chairs, drive a car, take the stairs, maneuver in a mall or mingle on a dance floor. Urban cramp.

More in how they navigate in relation to the crowds around them than in individual isolation. Not much realistic scope for a boulevardier attitude.

It might be worth noting that if your fiction is set in a pre-congestive period or location, one should avoid a spacial anachronism. Character movements should reflect the more ample environment.

And, naturally, observations by other characters should also recognize and make assumptions about their manner of locomotion, their seat on a horse, and their bearing, deportment, carriage and style.

Make Note: Writer Beware! has up an alert! list of publishers to avoid.


Erik Ivan James said...

Excellent point, Bernita. It can work both ways and we need to be aware. I, for example, live in a rural area---the nearest "big city" is about 90 miles away. When I write, I think of my characters walking, or in a pickup truck. Never do I think of subways. Yet, much of the action in my writing is occuring in "the big city". Hmmm...I'd better revisit some scenes.

Bernita said...

That's very true - it works both ways.
Thank you, Erik, for pointing the other side of the coin.

writtenwyrdd said...

You make a good point. Thinking of body space and the unconscious attitudes about it isn't something that I have considered specifically. It's one more thing to keep in mind.

I do pay attention to what reaction would be appropriate to environment to a degree, especially when it is one with which I'm not hugely familiar, such as in the woods. (I doubt my limited hunting and camping skills give me real expertise, lol.)

writtenwyrdd said...

LOL, I think I just contrdicted myself. More. Coffee. Now....

Rick said...

Another thing to remember is that much of the past was more congested than modern Western cities - a court or castle, even a village, must have been as crowded as a college dorm.

(Hi, everyone! I'm grabbing a momentary respite from a forum where I've been very busy this last few weeks discussing how to blow up spaceships.)

Come to think of it, spaceships and space stations would likely also be quite crowded by our standards. I picture a space liner as having accommodations rather like a sleeping-car train.

EA Monroe said...

Good points, Bernita. I write "alternate-reality," and always must keep character movement forefront in my mind's eye, whether it's visualizing environment, an important part of characterization and behavior, or another character's observation. Sometimes, word choices reflect style, or a hasty grab for any word. For me, I try to make word choices reflect "action" or whatever fictional elements I'm using to create another dimension of reality. Shoot, I'm rambling.

Bernita said...

We get what you mean, Written, coffeed or not!

I was thinking rural vs. urban, Rick, remembering that even though cotts were crowded, people might spend most of their time outdoors and only crawl in to sleep.
Funny how propiquinty affects our recognition and adjustment of personal space.
One will tolerate a degree of touch on a crowded subway that otherwise would necessitate a hard elbow in the stomach.

Ramble on, Elizabeth!
Think the context of the action is very important. People's body movements may differ according to their familiarity with their environment. They may walk differently, fight differently, depending on habit, instinct or awareness.

bunnygirl said...

Clothing and mood make a difference in how one moves, too. This holds especially true for women, who move differently in a dress than in pants, simply by virtue of the garment design.

In one of my stories, a farm woman has been in mourning and going about in a dress for a couple of weeks. When she finally puts on pants again, people notice the difference:

"The clothes must have imparted confidence, because she held her head up and moved with a measure of her old style, not particularly graceful, but direct and sure like one of her goats."

So if a character usually wears a certain type of garment and then changes into something quite different, I would expect to see a corresponding change in the way they move. Or at least in how they try to move:

"Keep your knees together when you sit in a skirt," she reminded her. "And fold your hands in your lap when you aren't actually doing anything."

"I haven't forgotten." She adjusted her posture accordingly. "But I figured it's just us, here in this barn. And until we actually go to the meeting—"

"If you're dressed like a lady, you need to act like one."

"Yes, Auntie. Are we done now?"

Gabriele C. said...

Oh, my characters stalk, stamp, tromp, stagger and flounce, sit their horse with ease, have a proud bearing or sagging shoulders. Horatius drew the reins short, the muscles of his calves like a Greek statue as he fought to keep seat on the bucking stallion.

I see you've switched to the new blogger. :)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bunny, for extending the discussion.
I would think the footgear would have as much or more influence. One does bend down differently, however.
But your comment made me think of the contrast between the scratching guy in an undershirt and the same one in a suit at a funeral, though it may be as much the occasion as the clothing.
One thing I have always liked about my men is that they seem at ease whether in a tux/regimentals or cut-offs.
I do try to avoid putting my feet up on the table in a restaurant, or when wearing a skirt.

Bernita said...

I was wondering if historical fiction allows for more freedom of movement for characters, Gabriele, rather than squeezed between, slid past, pushed aside and halted until.
Yes. Now I have to get up enough nerve to investigate how to change and add to my blogroll.

spyscribbler said...

A great point. You know, there's so much I forget to think about when I'm writing.

Thanks for the WB heads up! A year or two ago, a woman came on a list and announced she was going with a similar publisher, spouting all the rhetoric about how paying so much would make her the Next Big Thing. After some shocked silence and wondering if she was for real, several authors gently (and increasingly ungently) tried to give her the facts.

She didn't believe them. Very frustrating.

Bernita said...

Natasha, you may be one of those writers who don't have to "think" about it, who instinctively adjust according to the scene.
I haul this out simply as something to think about and check for during revision.

Hard-hearted of me,perhaps, but it serves her right - especially if she was swaggering and bragging and lording over other writers.

Scott from Oregon said...

Excellent point ans so very true.

When I was told I sauntered and didn't walk "normally", it made me think self-conscious about my movements, which made me put labels on them.

I saunter outside, at flea markets, in stores, on sidewalks.

In tighter spaces I "lumber", as I am forced to hold my arms in and be weary of knocking things off walls and shelves.

In crowded passageways (Tokyo train stations for example) I walk on the balls of my feet, as sideways movememnt is a necessary element.

In the mountains, uphill, I 'churn", and downhill I am amazingly agile (I love the challenge of walking speedily down a steep and loose incline) so I would say I do a kind of braking dance on small points of footing... errr something like that...

How one walks also indicates body type. Tall and erect and thin has a completely different walk then short and dumpy...

Think of the small man with his chest pushed out or the square man who sort of rocks back and forth as he walks.

The barrel chested hot headed man who walks with his head forward like the charge of a bull...

Fun stuff Bernita!

ORION said...

Always you give me something worthwhile to consider when I visit your blog.
I have many characters whose movement is affected by their mood or personality (example shyness) but I think about clothes?
I wonder...

Gabriele C. said...

either stick with Classic Template and do it the old way by changing adding the HTML codes for links etc. in the sidebar. Or pick a new template and use the Drag and Drop widgets - personally, I don't like them, and a good deal of the problems discussed in the Google help group are issues with the new templates that do things behind your back so to speak. It's worse for those who don't know any HTML because they won't find the funny tags that screwed their template.

Make a copy of yours before you alter anything. If you decide to try a new one and it doesn't work, you can return to Classic, pick just one, and overwrite it with a copy of your template. That's what I did.

Gabriele C. said...

To be clear, I mean the entire template, not only the sidebar section.

I've altered mine beyond anything Blogger would recognise as one of their templates anyway, lol.

Bernita said...

Glad you like it, Scott, and thank you for the idea.

Even if I can't help myself, Pat, if it helps someone else...

OooKaaay, Gabriele. You've convinced me.
I shall e-mail my TechChild and have her do it.

Carla said...

It's something I notice about people, for some reason. I can often recognise someone by the way they walk or stand long before I'm close enough to see their face.

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

I often spend a good deal of time searching for the appropriate words or phrases to indicate a character’s gait or perhaps a subtle movement of the wrist or ankle, etc. The way in which a person moves is so telling--so much a part of the entire package. Picturing one character saunter while certain another would most definitely swagger, while a third might amble, is just one part of the creative writing process I truly enjoy.

Bernita said...

I do too, Carla.
And my husband claims he first decided to marry me when he saw me walking from across the street.

I find people's movements are very individual in real life, Daisy, and maybe that care and attention is what helps makes your characters unique and individual in your fiction.

Donnetta Lee said...

Bernita:I left a comment for you earlier, but it doesn't look like the blog saved it. I can't remember exactly how it went now, but it was about "Bodies in Motion." Certainly, must have been profound! I left one a few days ago and it didn't show up either. Has anybody else had trouble? Donnetta

Bernita said...

I'm sorry, Donnetta, I would have liked to read them.
Have found I need to wait for the "message saved" notice before I click on to something else, because there may be a time limit thing going with the verification code.