Saturday, June 4, 2011

Laryngitis vs. Dialogue

I used to get laryngitis a lot. About once a year, my voice would freeze up (with or without the sore throat), and I'd wander around shrugging, pointing at my throat, and mouthing the words I have laryngitis.

And, honestly, it was dang fun. (Speaking of dang fun, my sons just called my name, I responded with "What?" and they informed me that I have "five minutes to get rid of that word," meaning I have to get someone else to say it. All together, now: "What?")

Where was I? Oh yes. The glories of non-verbal communication.

You might find this attitude strange in someone who loves to talk as much as I do. I am quite enamored with the sound of my own voice, I'm not what anyone would call shy, never have been, and I have a very healthy respect for the power and overall convenience of words. In fact, one of my high school friends once declared, while I was on an overnight trip with her family, that I could never go a single hour without talking. Boy was she sorry when I shut up until the next morning! :)

Maybe I have the soul of a mime, maybe this is just my acting obsession talking, but the truth is, as cool as words are, it's fun to explore the many ways you can communicate without them. (Though I also love sign language, I'm not talking about that.)

Faces are expressive. Bodies are constantly "talking." A change of posture or a well-placed eyebrow can communicate as much as a thousand words (just like your average picture).

The challenge for a writer, of course, is putting these expressions into words. This is not impossible. Observe:
"John, I need to talk to you," Marsha said.
Glaring at John, Marsha stood, folded her arms, then jerked her head toward the door. 
Do we need the dialogue to know that Marsha wants to talk to John? How about this one:
"If you kids don't settle down right now, you're going to walk home," Mom repeated for the tenth time.
Mom flicked the turn signal on, swerved to the side of the road, and stomped on the brake. She jabbed the button to unlock the doors and pointed out the passenger side window.
Which one is more effective?

Now, as you've noticed, non-verbal communication uses more words to record. Some might call it inefficient. A whole book with nothing but non-verbal communication would be a massive tome, indeed.

Doesn't mean it's not more fun.

What do you think? Are there places in your WIP where non-verbal communication is / would be more effective than dialogue?


  1. Fine! Give me more (great) things I have to think about. *sigh*

    (love your illustrations)

  2. Donna--LOL. I know the feeling. I'm sort of dreading my next read-through....


  3. Ooh, I like this! Very thought-provoking. I want to look for spots where this can work in my WIP.

  4. This is a great post. I'm at the editing stage with two of my projects, so I'll bear this in mind as I go through them. Thanks!

  5. Like so many things in writing, I think there's a balance. :D Once, I did a series of short stories, and I experimented with different things. I chose to do one where the characters didn't talk at all through the whole short story--it was a lot of fun.

    Overall, though, I try to have non-verbal communication mixed in with verbal.

  6. Stephanie--I'm really going to be looking for that in mine, for the next edit round, too. :P

    Christine--I'm impressed you have two projects editing at the same time!

    Laura--yes, if I didn't make it clear, balance is good. Spoken dialogue can accomplish a lot that non-verbal just can't. Though I'm intrigued by your no-talking short. :)

  7. I so needed to hear this. Can I use this as an excuse to not improve my dialogue writing skills?

  8. LC--LOL! I just wrote Tuesday morning's post, which is also on dialogue. Tune in then.... :)