Gestures can convey so much in a novel. Well-described gestures can help us divine what a character is thinking, they can create suspense, they can take our breath away.
But in order to work, they need to mean something.
So often when I’m working with authors on edits I see gestures that just don’t really mean anything or don’t add anything new. People looking at things or fiddling with things or turning away or coughing or sighing.
I can absolutely empathize with these authors. One of my own writing tics that I have to watch out for is characters looking at things. And sometimes it feels important to slow down the dialogue for a dramatic pause.
But empty gestures can really add up. They can slow down a scene, bog down the pace, and exhaust the reader, especially if they’re repetitive.
More importantly: they can be meaningful.
The master of gestures is, in my opinion, J.K. Rowling. Part of what makes her characters so vivid is the care she takes to show characters doing things that reveal what they’re thinking and show their character. Hermione rummaging through a bag when she’s embarrassed, Ron turning red, Dolores Umbridge “Hem hem”ing.
Take a hard look at your scenes, especially your conversations, and see if you’re relying on empty gestures that can either be removed or made more unique.
With well-chosen gestures, your characters will come alive.
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Art: Gossip by Eugene de Blaas