He said, Rufus said, they said, they all said…can get quite monotonous as tags, but tags are kind of essential in dialogues involving more than two people. So, how can we spice them up? Well, as Ursula once told Ariel about how to communicate without a voice, “Never underestimate the power of body language.”
By using body language, you can kill two rattlesnakes (come on, no one wants to kill birds) with one stone. You can tag the speaker without using the traditional dialogue tag “he said” and you can describe what the character is feeling.
Now, there is a right way and a wrong way of using body language in your story and it can either enhance or detract from your writing.
Don’t overuse them. They lose their power and then get super distracting if your characters use their hands too much etc. I have to watch out for the wringing of the hands syndrome in my writing…and the biting of the lip. I discovered that my heroine bit her lip so much in the first few chapters that her lips should be bleeding, so I got the red pen and eliminated almost all of them. A few bitten lips work, but too many and you will need to send the heroine to the doctor.
Don’t double up on body language in the description and in the dialogue in the same sentence. Don’t show them and tell them.
“Rufus Pug stared wide-eyed at his owner taking the horrid picture. His upper lip trembled as he swallowed back his tears, determined to hold his head high even in such a trying costume. ‘I am so embarrassed,’ Rufus thought.”
Rufus’ actions depict his embarrassment, so you don’t need to have him to say that he is mortified. Pick one or the other, but showing is preferable than just spelling it out for the reader.
Create a Body Language Bank!
Now, I know there are dictionaries full of body language for writers and I definitely have a few, but I find that some of the most unique sources of body language come from books I’m reading.
Currently, my favorite source of how to correctly use description is from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s series, Peter and the Starcatchers. I know it’s a “kid’s” book, but they have to paint the characters and entire worlds for their young readers and they do a fantastic job. While reading, I keep a notebook by my side for when I came across any unique way the author phrases something. Of course, you can’t copy their descriptions, but it helps to give yourself a diving board for your own brainstorming session on what works and what doesn’t when describing a character’s body language.
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