Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Story Problem #2: No Sense of Movement

#2 on Angela Ackerman's Top 5 Issues I Find When Critiquing is:

No Sense Of Movement
In dialogue heavy scenes, another problem I see are characters who interact verbally, but not physically. To add a sense of movement, characters should interact with the setting and each other as they speak. Dialogue should flow quickly, but not so fast that there are no indicators of what’s happening to or around the speakers. Setting is not just a backdrop for the dialogue to take place in--it should be chosen deliberately and have specific meaning to the characters. Balancing dialogue with body language and movement will show emotion, reveal character and remind the reader that the conversation is not taking place in a vacuum.
The best suggestion I can make for this problem is to watch a conversation. Go to a restaurant or some other public place, sit down, and watch people interact with each other. You don't sit without moving.
  • People wave their hands for emphasis
  • They look around at what's going on around them
  • Girl's push their hair out of their face when the wind blows it
  • Or play with it in some other way
  • People reach out to touch hands, arms, shoulders, face
  • They get bumped by other people
  • They cough, sneeze, drum their fingers on the table, jiggle their leg in nervousness, etc.
The list goes on and on. Watch people and make a list of the common motions as well as search for some unique movements. Using them in your own writing will add another layer of depth to immerse your readers in your world. Remember, we don't want them to remember they're reading at all.

Here's an example from a short story I started for a blogfest. I stripped all the motion out of the section and then put it back so you can see the difference.

TENSATI: “Come on, what’s wrong?”
LYRIA: “I can’t go to Earth 4.”
TENSATI: “Sure you can. We’re all paid up.”
LYRIA: “No, there’s something I haven’t told you.”
“Well, tell me now and then we can go look at our new home.”
LYRIA: “Ten, they’ll never let me set foot on that planet. I should have told you years ago, but I was so afraid.”
TENSATI: “Afraid of what? This isn’t another of your theatrics is it?”
LYRIA: “Do you remember when I was sick?”
TENSATI: “Sick? You haven’t been sick since,”  “your lung implants?”
And now with the movement and tags.

“Come on, what’s wrong?” He rubbed her shoulder.
“I can’t go to Earth 4.” She sucked in a ragged breath.
“Sure you can. We’re all paid up.”
“No, there’s something I haven’t told you.” She sat up and pulled her knees into her chest. Even at ninety-four she moved like a dancer.
“Well, tell me now and then we can go look at our new home.”
“Ten, they’ll never let me set foot on that planet. I should have told you years ago, but I was so afraid.” Lyria stared at the hand he had placed on her arm.
“Afraid of what? This isn’t another of your theatrics is it?”
She scowled at him, “Do you remember when I was sick?”
“Sick? You haven’t been sick since,” he ran through the years in his head, surprised at how far back he had to go, “your lung implants?”
I don't know if that's a good example or not, but it's still a rough draft. Anyway, the idea is that movement tags help ground the reader and provide subtle clues so they can imagine the scene. Otherwise it's like looking at a still picture with sound playing. Okay, but lacking on several layers.

Once again, you want to find the right balance. If you add an action, dialogue tag, or sensory description to every piece of conversation you will bog down the reader and lose your flow.

What's your favorite motion to add to your dialogue?

When I first started writing, mine was smiling. Yeah, we've all been there. Now it's a reaching to touch arm or shoulder or the one I used here--pulling knees into the chest. I've got to start branching out more. ;)


  1. Favorite or overused? Nodding.
    In real life, people fidget and are restless, and it helps to add some of that when people talk.

    1. Nodding, good one! It's like we all have physical ADD isn't it? Just try and sit and talk without moving any body part. LOL

  2. I'm guilty of doing this. My editor said, "Remember that people interact while they are talking. Don't just have dialogue." I don't think I was being excessive about it, but sometimes, all I have or had was dialogue. I figured that's all that mattered at the time.

    1. I can understand that. A lot of times it's easier for me to get past writer's block by just writing dialogue. It gets the flow of the story moving for me again, but I always have to go back and try and visualize what the conversation looked like. I just hear it the first go around.

  3. Looks. My problem is too much staring, gazing, and things of the eye.

  4. Movement, both within the scene and in a larger sense within the plot at that moment, is so important. Great post!


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