The Way You Move…

Adventures in fiction writing.

There are many descriptors that a writer can use to convey the physical act of walking. For example:

  • Walk
  • Run
  • Pace
  • Shuffle
  • Amble
  • Trudge
  • Hurry
  • Scurry
  • Sidle
  • Tip toe
  • Stomp
  • Trot
  • Hike
  • Meander
  • Stroll

You get the idea… However, one of the mistakes I made in my early fiction pieces –fortunately one that I caught before publishing– is to over-describe a character’s movements within a scene. Let’s suppose we are writing a scene in which a couple at home is having a conversation, while cooking together in the kitchen.

Joni walked to the refrigerator and gathered all the ingredients for the salad. Then she walked to the counter and set them in front of Graham before hurrying back to the stove to stir the soup.

That’s just two sentences, but imagine that going on throughout a 300 page novel! Every time a character makes a move, the writer doesn’t need to describe it.

Joni gathered the salad ingredients from the refrigerator and set them in front of Graham, then returned to the stove to stir the soup.

The use of a variety of descriptors for movement helps us to visualize the scene. it is part of the concept of ‘show don’t tell’ in writing. Some scenes will require a lot of movement –a fight scene, or a foot chase, for example. A heated discussion might have a character agitated and pacing or wildly gesturing. In those instances, a detailed description of their moves would be appropriate. But in a routine setting like the one above, the reader doesn’t need to see every little move a character makes.

Happy writing and productive editing!

(Header image courtesy stpaul.gov Google images)

Small Cuts (6) Elaine continues… #fiction

Read the opening thoughts of each of them: James, Elaine, Oliver and Genevieve. Then James again

And Elaine continues:

Though the dark interior of the car provided cover, I concentrated on my phone to keep my hands from shaking. James was asking me if I’d enjoyed the trendy restaurant —it was the first time we’d been there— but it felt like the opening line of an interrogation. Maybe I was being paranoid and he hadn’t overheard my conversation with Oliver. I gave him a noncommittal answer and hoped that would be the end of it. Ollie had never been so reckless as he was tonight. And it was my fault. I had led him on, flirted shamelessly even though I hadn’t any intention of following through. I loved my husband. He’d just grown so distant lately… and now tonight seeing him talking with Genevieve, I wondered if I had pushed him even further away.

If I was to be honest with myself, I knew that James and Gen had way more in common than he and I did. Gen was all smart and well read like James was. She had some fancy PR job with a non-profit organization. One of those ‘end world hunger’ outfits or something like that. When we first met, I’d tried talking to her about it but I felt my eyes crossing every time she’d go off on one of her rants about the state of world affairs. There’s only so much doom and gloom I can stand over the course of the evening. And since she never really asked me about my work —rude, if you want to know what I think— I figured we just weren’t meant to be friends.

Anyway, whenever the four of us were together, I often felt like I needed to sneak off and Google the stuff the others were talking about. I could almost feel the disdain Genevieve had for me when I would try to join in the conversation. Inevitably, Oliver would notice and take pity on me. At least that’s what I thought it was. Him feeling sorry for me. But then he started arranging things so that we could talk just the two of us. I admit it, I enjoyed the attention and I was grateful to not have to talk about the plight of the world’s refugees over drinks and dinner.

I never imagined things would go this far.

Oliver had always been playful, never serious. But tonight as I stared at him across the table, I saw in his eyes the very depth of emotion I’d been hoping to provoke in my husband. Desire, longing, love… My heart raced and though I knew I should, I couldn’t look away.

“Lainey,” he said quietly. “We should talk. Soon. Tomorrow. Can you get away?”

Tomorrow was Sunday. James was golfing with some of the other lawyers from his firm. I had the entire afternoon free. It wouldn’t be the first time Oliver and I had done something on our own. I nodded. “What did you have in mind?”

With a sideways glance at Genevieve, he said, “The Park Hotel?” And as I felt the blood drain from my face, he quickly added, “For brunch? And then we can walk around town for a bit, if you want…”

We’d had coffee together before —our offices were near each other and we’d meet before work once in a while, Just last week, we’d met for lunch with James’ blessing. Why would this be any different? But I knew, I just knew something had changed tonight, some monumental shift in our personal paradigm had occurred. Events were spiraling out of control. Why couldn’t I bring myself to put a stop to it? I had gazed into those heated, desperate eyes and said yes.

And now James, ever calm, not taking his hands from the wheel nor his eyes from the road, had just asked me another question. “Sorry, what?” I asked, because I’d been so absorbed in my thoughts I hadn’t heard.

“I asked if you enjoyed your dinner,” he said. “I’m thinking it wasn’t worth the cost.”

“Yes, yes, you’re probably right,” I agreed, and wondered if he was really talking about the food.

Small Cuts (5) James Again #fiction

This is a continuation of a series I started a long time ago. Maybe you remember it: two couples out for dinner together, the internal thoughts of each one? Read the opening thoughts of each of them: James, Elaine, Oliver and Genevieve. And now back to James again…

It always begins with words. Some will try to tell you it’s the sight of someone that brings on those first feelings of love, but that’s just lust, hormones, chemicals. Love, genuine affection, true feelings —they begin with words. The problems arise when the words are lies.

The ride home from the restaurant was quiet. I made several attempts at conversation, but gave up after receiving one or two word answers in return. I thought Elaine would say something about the way Genevieve and I talked for once. I wondered if she had noticed our hands touch across the table, or if she had been too enthralled with Ollie’s fawning. Whatever the case, she had no more words for me. Not tonight anyway.

I stole a quick glance at her out of the corner of my eye. Her pretty face was lighted from the glow of her phone’s screen. Facebook or Instagram, no doubt. She could spend hours scrolling through the newsfeed. Watching cooking videos for recipes she’d never try, taking trivia quizzes and commenting on all her many friends’ posts. Everyone’s highlight reel. I couldn’t understand it. It was fake life. By the time we got home, she would have posted photos of our meals, the selfie she took as soon as we got to our table and maybe a shot of me when I wasn’t looking. It was our fake life, too.

I met Elaine the old fashioned way —in a bar. I had gone out with a couple of other guys from the firm to celebrate winning a hard fought and highly lucrative settlement for our clients. The Bar was so named to attract the lawyers who had situated their offices strategically near the center city courthouse. Tonight my colleagues and I bought rounds of drinks for the house, toasted each other on our performances and got joyfully wasted in short order. So that was the state of things when Elaine and her friends walked in and settled at a table in the back. She was lovely. Flawless skin, dark hair she had piled in a loose bun with tendrils framing her face, dimples that appeared when she smiled —and she smiled often as I watched her.

For a man who needs to display unassailable confidence in front of the court, I am not especially outgoing when it comes to people in general. I am not unfriendly, just choosy about whom I decide to call a friend. So if not for alcohol fueled courage, I might never have approached the table of four women. Might never have talked with Elaine way past the time our friends had left for the night. All those words…

Sometimes, when that initial lust, those hormones and chemicals make the brain function poorly, you pretend. You pretend that every word the other person says to you is the most interesting thing in the world. You agree about everything. You like all the same things. You fake your way through topics of conversation in which you haven’t a clue. You hope the other person doesn’t notice.

I didn’t notice. Out of character, I did most of the talking, Elaine smiled, nodded, agreed, seemed genuinely interested. In retrospect, I realized that she asked questions to keep me talking —a deflection so I would’t catch on that she knew nothing about history, the law, classical music, Renaissance art. When last call came I was besotted. I asked her if we could see each other again and she readily agreed. I kissed her goodnight as she got into a taxi.

On our first date, I took her to the art museum. She had seemed enthusiastic that night at The Bar when I told her about the exhibit I wanted to see. She played the part perfectly that day and the next time we went out and for all the times after that as well. We fell in love. I proposed. We got married.

When in a relationship do the blinders come off? Or for that matter, when do we take our masks off and show our true selves? It’s never abrupt, rather more like a subtle slippage over time. Begging off on the gallery opening, staring at her iPad instead of the film on TV, playing her streaming music instead of mine. I can’t remember ever really noticing, not until I saw how she was with Oliver. It was the way we used to be in the beginning. Except this time, it didn’t feel like she was pretending.