Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Actions . . . Denied??

Over at the kt literary blog, there was a post about "Smirk", and other words to avoid. Yes, you know the drill, click, read, and then back here, otherwise you won't understand a thing I'm going to post about. Okay, you will understand, but still, common courtesy . . .

The main point of the post was the overuse of the word smirk and Daphne (blog writer) made the following comment: But "smirk" is just one of those words that gets used a log, along with "shrugged" and "nodded", at least as far as I've noticed.

So, here's my comment:

If characters aren’t allowed to laugh, shrug, smirk, nod, shake, or whatever, then what to they do during a conversation? I mean, my sister couldn’t have a complete conversation if you tied her hands behind her back. Come to think of it, neither could I. So, how are such things conveyed in a novel without consider such words (i.e., actions) as overused?

I mean, seriously, people don't just stand, ramrod straight, not moving, blinking, nodding, smiling, smirking, arching an eyebrow or twenty, while they have a conversation. People do all those things, and more, when talking with each other.

So, if, as writers, we shouldn't overuse such words/actions, then how do we convey such actions with our characters. Are the nods, smirks, shrugs, shakes, twitches, winks, smiles, etc., just not important? Are these actions so insignificant not to matter at all?

Since I don't have the answers, though perhaps by the time this post posts Daphne will have answered my question, I'm leaving them up to you, dear readers. Have at it!!



Robyn Campbell said...

Hmmm, I'm thinking (and I could be wrong, because I usually am.) that she is of the, he said, she said variety. Those ol' reliable, yet forgotten tags. And your sister could be moving while talking. Making coffee, putting groceries away, walking the dog. I have stopped using most things like, she laughed, she nodded and those types of things.

But I haven't read the post. I'll head over after I get a chance. We're at the hospital today, she groaned. *grin*

Marybeth Poppins said...

I think she is kinda telling us to watch out not to use them TOO often. And the same thing goes for other actions. I know I have my characters "glare" a lot. I think if you use the words sparingly you'll be just fine :)

Jonathon Arntson said...

I'm with MP, the words from the list are not off limits, they should be used sparingly. My characters glare too, a lot. I noticed my friend asking me why my MC was so mad all the time. I didn't know what she meant. She told me my character had glared at somebody like fifteen times so far, and that was by page ten...

I think a well-rounded writer finds ways to use common words along with the less common, but keep the novel down to earth.

Lady Glamis said...

Just write what sounds good to you and find a good balance. That's the key to most good writing. I hate "never do this" lists. They irritate me to no end.

I do realize that the post you linked to isn't a "never do this" list, but still, it's okay to have your character smirk a few times during the course of a novel. People smirk. And they nod and they shrug, too. Just don't have them do it like 4 times on every page, I guess, is the point they're making. :)

Elana Johnson said...

I hate to say it, but I'm with her. I sat and watched people in a restaurant once. Not because I'm a crazy person (well, debatable) but because I wanted to see how much they shrug. What I found: they don't. Not a single person shrugged. They did other things. A lot of people talk with their hands. They look at their food. They watch the waitress. Other people in the restaurant. All while talking.

Not very many of them nod, either. I watch how I talk to my kids. I don't nod or shrug. Neither do they. So I've tried to eliminate those things from my writing. Just personal preference, really.

Smirking? Totally okay by me. ;-)

Scott said...

Marybeth - I agree about the not using too much, but I also got (perhaps mistaken) the impression that we really shouldn't use some of the words. Oh, well . . .

Jonathan - I've had the same problem with my characters glaring. I think it's a fine balance and, in the end, one editor might find issue, and another might not.

Lady Glamis - great advice, and it's pretty much what I do. I just never considered going through my MS and looking for 'nodded, smiled, smirked, glared, etc., etc., etc.. I guess I know what I'm doing this weekend. : )

Elana - I nod all the time when talking with people, especially if I'm agreeing with them. And, I shrug quite a bit too, but not necessarily in response to something someone said, but just because my shoulders are tight. It is possible to eliminate all these actions, but . . . people do smile, smirk, run their fingers thorugh their hair, pick at their buttons, rub their chin, and do so many other things. : ) I guess it's all a fine balance and, in the end, if an editor doesn't like it, they'll ask the author to remove and/or change the words. Isn't that just part of the writing process? : )


Ann Elle Altman said...

I think though, those words are actions not ways of speech. YOu can say:

"What are you talking about?" he asked and shrugged.

But you can not smirk words out. You can only say.
I think that's the point. Add actions, it's important, we just don't say actions.

Just my two cents.


Paul Greci said...

Thanks, Scott. I just read Kate's post. I'd say just don't overuse them. All those actions are going to be character dependent. Who is this person who is shrugging or nodding or picking their nose and why are you choosing to have them shrug or nod or pick?

I know I overuse some words. I've got a bunch of nods and smiles to eliminate from one manuscript.

Scott said...

Ann - can't you say something and then smirk? I don't use dialogue tags like "he said" or "she said". So, after a character says something, when many characters abound in a situation, a character might reach, smile, laugh, shrug, nod, or whatever. : )

Paul - it's not one character, but multiple characters - see above. : )

Jemi Fraser said...

There's a fine line between use & overuse - we do have to be careful!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love the word smirk - it's playful and colorful. She's probably cautioning against overuse. :-)

VR Barkowski said...

The word smirk bothers me, so once a novel is enough. But shrugging, nodding and eye rolling? I'm guilty. Easily recognizable gestures create the beats necessary for good dialogue. Back and forth dialogue with no beats is like watching a tennis match. As interesting as it is, you're not the one playing. IMO gestures, as long as they're not overused—or, as my writing teacher used to say, less is more—are essential for drawing a reader into the story and giving a scene depth.

She Writes said...

Can I say screwed? I am screwed as I use all of those. But I try not to repeat them...

LR said...

I read a novel that was full of things like (no joke):
"Lisa, you're so pretty," Dan smiled.
And, "Dan, shutup will you," Lisa grimaced.

This was a published novel (no not self-published, either). It had me in stitches. Obviously you can't smile or frown a sentence. I kept the novel as a reminder that we all have a fair chance at getting published. :)

As for actions: I think they just shouldn't draw attention to themselves. You have to ask yourself, every time, "Is this really necessary?" To ban them though, no. That's as silly as saying absolutely no adjectives and no adverbs.
Sometimes you need 'em, but just a selected few.