Writing Tips: Character Movement

Greetings, Champions! Before we get started with today’s topic–Character Movement–I want to announce that I have an instagram account: km.shea. Follow my account if you want to get a little glimpse into my life! Thus far I have two extremely lonely pictures on there, but as the account is brand new, it will take me a few days to fix that. Additionally, I did some major remodeling to the categories section (omgawsh it took me all morning to sort my posts) so the categories cloud on the right navigation bar will be easier to navigate now.

Okay, let’s begin! When I say today I’m going to discuss character movement, I mean two things 1) actual movement–think verbs, like: jumped, skipped, swung–and 2) facial expressions.

Editor #2 watches character movement–facial expressions in particular–like a hawk. The misuses she commonly watches for are…

  • Overused movement/expression: A lot of writers use smile too much–heck, I use smile too much. It’s a challenge, but if you notice your characters are displaying one expression over and over again, try to think of an alternate way of showing that feeling. Instead of smiling their eyes could brighten, or they could jump for joy.
  • Continuity: This means that you can’t have Sally standing in paragraph one, and in paragraph two she gets up from a chair.
  • No movement: There are times when you want a lot of dialog, and there are times when you just want action. However, these times need to be carefully balanced and interrupted. If the characters are having an emotional conversation, you need to use their body language to give the readers clues as to what they are feeling.
  • Too much movement: Readers are intelligent, so you don’t have to spell every gesture out for them. If your character is getting up from a desk you don’t have to say “Hunter pushed his chair back from the desk and stood up out of the chair” you can simply say “Hunter stood.” Your reader will understand. (That being said, if your character is stuck in a bear-trap, you better explain how he got himself unstuck before he stood.)
  • Tame verbs: Character movement needs to be strong. Why have your character walk when they can march, or stroll, or saunter? However, you don’t want to have “strolled” or “sauntered” in your manuscript more than a a few times. It’s all a balancing act. In my original draft of The Snow Queen: Heart of Ice, Rakel–the heroine–winces about eight times. That is five times too many, so Editor #2 had me change some of the instances to flinched and grimaced.

Now that list is some of the areas Editor #2 has pointed out as errors, but there are a few good things you should know about character movement as well.

Body language, actions, and facial expressions should all give hints and clues to what your characters are feeling, and what’s going on. Movement can also be an expression of the character itself.

Bill Amend understands the importance of character movement...

Bill Amend understands the importance of character movement… For anyone who doesn’t know this comic, that’s Peter–a senior in high school–cross-dressing as his little sister Paige.

Tari–the nimble elf heroine of Red Rope of Fate–does a lot of gliding, waltzing, and dancing. Her movements are beautiful and elegant because of what she is. Ahira of Princess Ahira is a little more clumsy so she occasionally trips, gets dirty, and stomps around when she’s feeling bad tempered. And that’s the differences between two females. If you compare them to, say, Colonel Friedrich of Cinderella, the Colonel stands a lot taller, saunters, and has the tendency be on his guard due to his military training.

Figuring out how they move is especially important for your main characters, and it needs to be consistent. You can’t have your heroine be clumsy one moment and then as graceful as a swan in the next scene–unless you make the change gradually over the duration of the novel. Also, a few secondary characters might have unique movements, but you need to make sure you don’t go overboard or everyone will be skipping, romping, and storming all over the place. It will get distracting and feel forced. Keeping that in mind, the same movement technique can be used to show information about background characters that have an impact on your story.

Let’s say your characters have broken into a castle and are trying to avoid any guards. Although the guards are background roles who likely will never be named, their movements can help readers grasp a blanket generalization about them. Using body language can tell readers (and your characters) if they need to worry about the guards or not. Horrible guards would be slumped–possibly leaning against a wall–and perhaps even look bored. Elite honor guards, on the other hand, would stand at perfect attention with their hands on their weapons.

Alright, so I’ve had a chance to try explaining this to you, now you’re free to fly away and try it for yourself. However, I highly recommend you do a bit of research first and skim a few of your favorite books to watch how the authors move their characters. Observing it in other stories will help you see the rhythm and pattern writers use.

Whew, and that’s everything I can think of today. Thanks for reading, Champions! I hope you found this helpful.

7 comments on “Writing Tips: Character Movement

  1. Wow, a great subject. One readers don’t think about unless it’s done horribly. Thank you for the insight. I need to work on this! Definitely looking forward to more posts…and Endeavor!

    • My pleasure! I forgot to mention there is a pretty good book that lists ideas for facial expressions and gestures: The Emotion Thesaurus. Editor #2 recommended it to me, and it has helped quite a bit!

  2. Oh, that’s a good tip. I always end up having my characters shrug far too much.
    Out of curiosity (if you feel comfortable sharing), I was wondering about what the average word count for you Fairy Tales/King Arthurs end up being? It’s hard to tell from the kindle.

    • Sure, I don’t mind sharing! The Fairy Tales are usually a minimum of 65,000 words, with a longest reaching roughly 78,000. The King Arthurs stories are always between 30,000 and 33,000 words. (That word count doesn’t include back matter and title pages and what not.)

    • I meant to reply and mention this ages ago, the typical range, for a “young adult” book is as low as 45,000, and reaching as long as 100,000. Adult novels, on the other hand, are usually a minimum of 80,000 words, and can stretch on depending on the genre. All of this is traditionally speaking. With ebooks becoming more popular, a new trend is to write short episodic series–like my King Arthurs books.

      • Thank you! Yes, I’m trying to figure things out since I’m working on what was originally a YA fantasy but morphed into non-YA somewhere along the way but still has a lighter feel/tone than a lot of other urban/epic fantasy. So figuring out what length works best for it has been tricky-so thanks so much for being so helpful :D. It’s really nice of you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s