Smiles and Nods

by RS on June 20, 2011

I recently took an online class taught by Margie Lawson that specifically focused on how to write body language and dialogue cues like a psychologist.

One of the first exercises that Margie asked us to do was to run a search on how many times the characters in our WIPS nod, smile, frown, look, blink, purse their lips, burrow or knit their brows and so on. Overall, I didn’t have that many smiles (apparently my Merry Marxists are not very cheery), but the smiles I had were rather blah or cliche. As for the frowning, furrowed and knitted foreheads, pursed lips and whatnot, I had too many and again used in a way that was unimaginative.

With numerous examples of how we could make our characters’ body language sizzle, but also reveal the scene’s mood, the character’s motives, Margie asked us to go through our WIPS and select certain scenes that needed to be powered up. Each of us had editing partners and we would email our selections and analyze the before and after. Here are some of my before and afters that I randomly picked from Julius and involved lip(s) and mouth:

Before:

“Excuse me.” I sidestepped to get by her. Allison followed and stood in front of my desk; her lips pursed together forming a little spout; she planted her gnarled hands on her round and wide hips, and she shape-shifted into an old teapot.

After:

“Excuse me.” I sidestepped to get past her. Allison followed and stood in front of my desk. Her lips pursed, and as if an invisible string pulled them, formed a little spout. She planted her gnarled hands on her round, wide hips, and shape-shifted into an old teapot.

Before:

Allison’s little wart-hog eyes narrowed into slits. The inside corner of her eyes oozed a black, gooey venom. Her top lip curled, exposing long yellow teeth, and receding gums.

After:

Allison’s little wart-hog eyes narrowed into slits. The inside corner of her eyes oozed a black, gooey venom. The corner of her top lip curled, exposing a long yellow bicuspid and a sliver of receding gums.

And the last one…

Before:

His mouth hovered over mine, his lips almost brushing mine. “Say it, Corinne,” he whispered.

After:

His mouth, like a sweet and succulent plum, hovered over mine. He whispered, “Say it, Corinne.”

These exercises were fun to complete, but as we delved more and more into the nitty gritty of body language we all discovered that we had yet another round of revisions to make. And this was with the first two lectures. We still had touch, tone, inflection, pitch, volume, and much, much more.  Unfortunately, I fell behind with the exercises due to work and a personal problem. Now I am going through the lectures and beefing up the dialogue tags when there’s a need for it. And let’s not forget those lips,  smiles, stares, looks, gazes, touches and whatnot.

Overall, the class was worthwhile. I especially liked the idea of working with editing partners. The two women who partnered with me were great and we’re moving forward to continue working on other Margie Lawson packets.  And now back to my Merry Marxists and adding some oomph to their body language.

 

 

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