Writing Exercise – A Conversation Without Words.
Once a week I meet up with fellow writers at my writers’ group The Fellowship of The Pen. Yes, it was named before I joined, and yes Lord of the Rings was doing the circuit at the time. Once or twice we’ve discussed whether or not to change the name but the consensus of opinion was that we are a fellowship, and the most important thing about our fellowship is that we help each improve our writing skills. In our writing group we have members who enjoy writing short stories, screenplays, poetry and novels. A pretty well rounded band.
We don’t bicker, we offer positive feedback without spite, and many of the members have gone on to publication. I am proud to call these people my friends.
On some weeks we have free reading where whoever has something they would like help with can bring it along. On other weeks we don’t have our free reading until after a session run by one of the members, that we casually call lessons. Sounds dreadful doesn’t it? To attend a writing group and have lessons. Not at all. You might call them ‘writing prompts.’ They are exercises to strengthen our writing skills, to help us hone our craft and explore different disciplines when writing. With such a variety of writing interests within the group the lessons are always thought provoking and spur many of the short story writers and poets to inspiration for their next piece.
Once the lesson has been given we have about 10/15 minutes to write something which we then read out to each other. Some members shriek with panic, others complain that ‘you can’t expect the muse to descend in a nanosecond,’ but then it falls quiet and everyone is engrossed in scribbling down their ideas.
Last week it was my turn to run the lesson. I remembered this fact about 40 minutes before I was due to leave for the meeting! Horrified I turned to my friend Google and came across a few writing prompts. The one that appealed to me the most was an exercise devised to make us more aware of body language when writing. Often we write, ‘she said,’ or ‘he said,’ and omit to mention whether ‘he jabbed a finger,’ or ‘she folded her arms.’ These body signals tell us a lot about what the speaker is feeling while saying the words, and plays a vital role in ‘show not tell.’
This is the lesson plan I came up with and passed round to group members, verbally explaining that the purpose of the exercise was to get them thinking about how people move when speaking. It certainly brought out the voyeur in us all and as one member pointed out, ‘writers are a nosey lot, to sit in a café and people watch is essential study for any aspiring writer.’
A conversation without words
For some reason you are observing two people in conversation but cannot hear what they are saying. You can therefore only describe their conversation through their body language alone.
Choose any situation that springs to mind.
The following are only suggestions to get you started.
1) You are eating alone in a restaurant and watching two people on a distant table. Through their body language describe whether they are lovers, business colleagues, illicit lovers, best friends, etc. What do you think they are talking about from how they move their bodies in relation to each other?
2) You are a private investigator observing two people in order to work out any of the following:- They are lovers – they are planning a robbery – they have only just met – etc.
Perhaps the PI took photos and is analysing the body language afterwards.
3) You are watching your own child and another child in the playground. By body language alone describe whether they are being friendly, aggressive etc.
4) You are waiting for someone and see them approaching in the distance. The person you are waiting for bumps into someone and you watch but cannot hear what they say. By their body language alone describe how their interaction stirs your emotions. Do you suspect they are lovers? Are they just friends? Do they pass something to each other? What do they do that sparks your curiosity?
I’m now going to stick my neck on the line and share the piece that I wrote from the prompt. Remember, this is written in under 15 minutes during our meeting and transcribed direct from my notebook….so please, be kind!
“Rosie was late, she was always late. We’d arranged to meet outside Smith’s which is a pretty central location so I had a choice of looking up The High Street or down it. On my second hard stare up The High Street I caught sight of her ambling towards me at a snail’s pace. I waved but she was still a good two hundred yards away, apparently in her own little world.
Outside the art gallery she slowed down even more and a man in a suit stepped out of the building and started speaking to her. They exchanged the briefest of pecks on the cheek and I wondered if they were more friends or acquaintances. He was animated, gesturing wildly with his hands as if expecting, or even demanding, some kind of response other than the cool nothingness she presented him with.
Legs slightly apart and facing him square on she didn’t show any signs of being intimidated by his behaviour. Suddenly she threw her head back and laughed, provoking him to throw his arms wide. She was taunting him, mocking him; they were definitely not sharing a joke. No, she was laughing at him and he was visibly upset, his anger rising as he jabbed a finger at her and turned to walk away.
Having got the reaction she appeared to want she grabbed his arm and spun him back towards her. Ah, I’d seen her do that kind of thing before, hating the person she’d rejected to walk away, and always wanting the last word. He shrugged her off, irritated, but didn’t walk back into the gallery. He was nodding, agreeing to something, and that compliance made her lean forwards and kiss his cheek.”
Okay, so some of the piece I wrote is a bit clunky, but can easily be smoothed out if I want to use it as the starting point for a story, or insert it as a scene into a novel. I could even take up one of the character’s viewpoints, maybe write through the man’s viewpoint and by including his gestures and body language show how completely exasperated he is with Rosie.