Thursday, May 26, 2011

When Search and Replace Is Not Enough

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Body language has always been a struggle for me. I either have too much or not enough and much of what I include all revolves around the same motion. Twisting hands that knot themselves in your lap are the same thing. An eyebrow that lifts is the same one that quirks.

But because I am trying to write “fresh” I often take the same ways of saying something…and using different words to describe it.

Sorry. Can’t get away with that anymore.

After taking a recent Margie Lawson class (Empowering Character’s Emotions), I realized my body language (BL) was not good enough in my writing. And it suddenly became quite plain what I was doing wrong.

It was all the same.

Every bit of it revolved around a few parts of the body. A wince of a smile, restless hands, pacing, stomping, nodding or shaking of a head. There was no variety to any of it and I saw how my work suffered.

A great deal of BL that comes across on the page has the potential to speak louder than the words the character says. For example: (in the most simplistic form)

“Oh, why would you say that? I’m not nervous.” Her legs uncrossed and tapped a dance on the floor before hooking a toe on the barstool. Where a jittering rocked it from knee to toe. “Not nervous at all.”

Her actions completely contradict the words of her mouth. Now obviously I could have written that better, but do you see my point?

I decided to go through my manuscript and mark all my BL. Physically write it down on a pad of paper with a pen instead of just highlighting it on the screen. By writing it down in physical form you can see how many times you repeat a certain motion, because your mind is engaged to take it from the screen to the page.

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The reason you can’t use “search and replace” for this method because if you do a search for “smile” you won’t find all the other times you used a different word or description. Like: “his lips titled upward” (a pet phrase of mine…)

When I went through my first six chapters I marked not only BL, but also actions. I know I often use the same verbiage to describe something, so this was also a chance to mark those areas and see how they compare later on in the story. Don’t get stuck on marking “only” the BL. Look for the verbs that jump out at you as pet phrases.

My characters do a lot of smiling. I marked every single one so I can see how often they do. They also mess a lot with their hands, marching, stomping and nodding. Mark, mark, mark and mark them all!

If your main character doesn’t do the action, then make a little side note with which character did. Be fastidious about this exercise; take the time to mark them all. And when you are done you are going to have a resource at your fingertips that will catalog the emotions and BL of your characters, so when you start to write one that sounds similar you can search through your short-hand notes to see if you have or not.

Make your fiction “fresh” and “vibrant” by not settling for less. Take the time to go through these little extra steps (I did six chapters in a little over an hour) and you’ll plainly see what is working and what isn’t and those pet phrases to avoid.

What have you found that helps your editing process?