Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Gesture and Detail: An Exercise

I just finished Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer, which started slow but got really good later on (full review forthcoming). Anyway, she has a chapter each on gestures and details, the upshot of which is that if you’re going to write a gesture a person makes into your manuscript, or a detail of a place or person, you should make every effort to make that a unique, distinguishing feature of that person or place.

For example, rather than:

“Is that so?” Joe took a drink of wine.

… think about why Joe would drink wine, what it reveals about him that he drank it at that moment, or in what way he takes the drink that can tell us how he’s feeling. Like:

“Is that so?” Joe raised the glass to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers as he sipped.

So my exercise to myself is to try to look around each day and notice one person’s gesture and/or one detail about a person or place, something unique and individual, and note it in my notebook. Part of being a writer is being a reader, not just of books but of the world around you.


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