When Mabel asks Tom “Do you love me?” does he say “Yes” with passion or indifference? Instead of relying on an adverb to make Tom’s meaning clear, report the action that accompanies his words. Is he looking into his cell phone texting his paramour? Or does he put his phone down and hug Mabel? Consider using physical actions to clarify your character’s meaning. Better yet, make the actions do even more.
Use physical actions to break up a long explanation. I like to have my characters eat while they’re explaining something. Then, in the midst of their explanation, they can pause to drain their water goblet, fish out an olive, twirl the stem of their wine glass, grab a second piece of pie, or pop cashews into their mouth. And their companions can do the same.
Moreover, you can use their physical actions to illuminate their personality. Do they grab a bunch of french fries with their fingers, or do they spear each one with a fork? Does the wine trickle down the side of their mouth, or do they take a single sip and then wipe their mouth with a napkin? Do they stuff their mouth, talk when it’s full, or spray crumbs of food and then lick their lips?
You can also insert physical actions into the dialogue to make the setting more vivid. Is the fork used to spear the french fry monogramed? Is the napkin embroidered with the host’s initials? Does the sunbeam leaking through the shutters dust Tom’s face with light? Does the fragrance of honeysuckle from the garden or the stench of garbage from the kitchen make his eyes smart?
Are your characters watching a sporting event? Listening to a concert? Picking flowers? Cooking dinner? Riding in a car? Whatever the situation, inject physical actions into the dialogue to break up long explanations, illuminate your characters’ personality, and make the setting more vivid.
About the Author:
June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.
Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing historical mysteries with a connection to early science. Her heroine, Miriam bat Isaac, is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, where she is breathlessly recording the story of her plucky heroine’s next life-or-death exploit.