Do your characters nod too much? #amwriting

When we pop our precious characters onto the stage of our book, one thing we need to be wary of is not to over animate them.

I did a surreptitious survey while going about my business today. I like to do these things occasionally, you know, people watching. It is worth approaching such writerly duties with a  touch of caution though.

  • When watching strangers if they catch you they either think you are a nut or walk away with mild paranoia that there is something wrong with their hair, clothes etc
  • When watching people you know while they talk you can sometimes forget to pay attention to what they are saying…something about the maximum pieces of information your brain can process at any one time…maybe my brain just can’t process very much 😉

Today I tried to focus on everyone’s body language, and to be precise, how much nodding they did.

I found that the people I interacted with didn’t do very much nodding or shaking of the head at all, in fact they were rather boring and lacking in animation. Were these people a poor sample set? Or do people just not use their head to ‘speak’ as often as they can do in a book?

One of the things my editor pointed out to me was that I do a lot of head shaking in my book, I then went through and hacked out as many of them as I could, and it is now part of my self-edit process as something to look out for in any new work.

I wondered if everyone had some sort of animation vice. Is it a raised eyebrow a time too many? Eye rolling? Frowns or scowls? Or perhaps you have a favourite phrase you slip into your prose subconsciously that reaches out after the 20th time to smack your reader between the eyes?

So, I will leave you with my opening question–do your characters nod too much?

24 thoughts on “Do your characters nod too much? #amwriting

  1. They probably do, to be honest. I mean, it is something that I catch myself doing too much with the character because I find that there is nothing else to suggest what they are doing. I should probably just put nothing, right?
    The other thing they do way too much would be raising a brow… I really need to think of something else to say for that… Any suggestions?

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    1. check the article ‘Chris the story reading ape’ posted in the comments here, lots of great tips. I also use a book called the emotional thesaurus – look up the emotion – it gives you suggested body language. I guess I would ask yourself why they are raising their eyebrow? Are they skeptical, annoyed, disbelieving, disgusted, intrigued, amused etc and is there a better way to show this. That said, people do nod and raise their eyebrows sometime so you definitely don’t need to take them all out IMO 😉

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  2. I don’t have to watch out for nodding so much as blinking (as in surprise). Never realized I had a habit for that one until my editor pointed it out to me. Now, I’m constantly on the look out for it!

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  3. Don’t think I do a lot of head nodding or shaking, but I do know that a lot of people do, it can be distracting as you say. facial expressions are part of us and without them we would loose a lot of the meaning of what we are trying to say.

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  4. I like your idea of doing a surreptitious survey of body language–not to cut anything from what I write, but to add to my body-language vocabulary and to find some quirky thing that I might like to have a character do.

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    1. After Tracey Marie comment above about shoes, I kept noticing everyones different footsteps coming past my desk today. It’s fascinating the things you start to pick up once you start looking 😉

      Like

  5. I actually nod a LOT in conversation – it’s an involuntary motion, I just do it! I probably look like a bobble-head, haha. 🙂 Let’s see, animations I over-use… Pretty sure I use eye-rolls a lot. I also indicate way too often when my characters smile, which is hard to avoid because real people often don’t respond to things in words, they respond through their face. They give a smile to show interest or affection or amusement. But I probably don’t need to point it out EVERY time. 😉

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  6. I suffer from those redundancies on occasion, but I’ve recently discovered a way to keep them in check! What I’ll do is attribute particular gestures and expressions to particular characters. While I love the brow-raise expression, I’ve restricted its use to my main character, who has bold eyebrows with which he can gesture. Of course, if another character wants to quirk a brow, he or she can, but not nearly as much as the main character. Good post!

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  7. Character animation has always been something that I feel is important to the characters. If everyone acts the same, what is it that separates them from each other? If all your characters nod, then they blend together. However, if there is that one guy who is always nodding, then it becomes a character trait. Same with the raised eyebrow. Think about Spock. Would he be the same if he didn’t have the raised eyebrow, or if everyone on the show did the same?

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