Friday, October 8, 2010

Moving Body Parts

Hope that title made you curious enough to keep reading. Today's post concerns itself with a little device writers use to break up chunks of dialogue. We're ever conscious of writing too much without pausing to let the reader digest (and savor) our words and so we look for interesting ways to make those text breaks. Conversation is linear but adding some motion into the mix can give more dimension to a paragraph. So what is this all about? Let's consider the face:


Eyes can stare and glare, peer and leer, glower or shine


Lift, arch, raise, narrow them


These can be pursed, parted, held firm, quiver, or tremble. They can be chewed upon, as well.

Creating the Passage

Now that I've got my moving body parts, let's see how this can work in a conversation.

"Jeeves," the old man glowered at the hapless servant. "Bring the brandy to the withdrawing room at once."
"Right away, my lord," the butler replied.
"Good help is so difficult to obtain these days," Lady Argyle said, narrowing her eyes and pursing her lips (a double use of the device here) as she spied a wilted rose in the vase next to the sideboard.
"Indeed," piped up Fauntleroy, glaring at the back of the hapless servant as he departed on his errand.

And so forth.

Question of the Day

Authors have pet expressions. One  British author's characters seem to be constantly "pulling a face."  I love Jayne Anne Krentz, writing as Amanda Quick. Many of her male characters spend some time "steepling their fingers" while they ponder what to say or do.

What pet expressions do your favorite authors use? Please share them with us.


  1. I use shivered or trembled a lot--to the point my publisher doesn't like it. Sometimes I think authors fall in love with a word and keep using it over and over. All the while,they are completely unaware of the crime!!!


  2. Most writers' first drafts are loaded with pet expressions. That's because the purpose of a first draft is to get to The End. Using expressions with which you're comfortable is one tool to help you finish a manuscript.

    To me, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo read like a first draft. Larson used the same expressions repeatedly and had characters perform the same action over and over, like making coffee and eating a sandwich.

    With the help of a few readers, I'm editing one of my manuscripts from a third draft into a fourth draft. Even after I found and edited pet expressions in the second draft, my readers are finding more. I'm grateful to my readers!

    Suzanne Adair

  3. I've found that I repeat certain words. It's only when somebody else calls my attention to them that I do the forehead slap.

  4. I love Michael Z. Lewin's mysteries, especially the Albert Samson series and the Leroy Powder series. The only trouble with the Powder series is that Powder rubs his face with both hands several times in every book. It isn't distracting when you read silently, but it is when I read them aloud to my mother. :)

    Marian Allen

  5. Good one. One author, whose name escapes me, has her heroine "drumming her fingers" numerous times.

  6. I think you catch more of these phrases when you read the book aloud.

    Suzanne Adair

  7. Agreed, Suzanne. Also, once you've found an interesting word, you can almost be certain the author will use it again. and again. and again.