Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How DOES A Walk Tattle-Tale Our True Thoughts?

Many children will aim straight for a puddle. What I find amazing about this photo is the little girl is not stomping to create a splash or kicking the water into the air. She is going somewhere and won't let anything get in her way. This young lady is determined and ready to tackle whatever is dealt.

I always knew when my mom was mad at my dad. She didn't need to say anything or even look at him. How then did I know?  Heavy placed steps boomed with a distinct rhythm throughout the house. Mom was actually walking from one room to another, but I knew that negative spirit thump without seeing or hearing her. I bolted to my room or slipped outside to play.

Our characters walk a lot in our stories.

They walk to the store, walk in the store, walk out of the store, walk to their car, from their car, in their house, to the kitchen, and at the end of the day they walk to their bed. Ho hum.

The word walk and some of its synonyms can drag the momentum of a story to a snail's pace. 

Walk is hardly descriptive other than to communicate a living creature moved from one location to another. What real benefit is that to move a story forward? 

Imagine treating this vague, nondescript, four-letter word as the diamond it's meant to be. A time to tattle-tale a person's emotion. Now we're talking.

Consider the devious thrill you, the author, will have when lighting a spark to a sentence by revealing the secret emotion behind the movement.

This topic popped in my mind when hubby and I toured Columbus, Ohio. Hubby and I waited at the light to cross the downtown street. A crowd of pedestrians from the other side stepped into the street when the light turned green and moved toward us. One young man, about college age, swayed side to side with his hands stuffed in his pockets. His baggy shirt covered the waist of his jeans which sagged lower than his hips. His shoulders took the lead, left, right, keeping a cool, tough, beat. He squinted, keeping his gaze forward. 

Then IT happened. Whoever he put this show on for must have passed. His eyes popped open to normal. His gait leveled as if strolling in the park. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and let them swing normally with his stride. I knew I had witnessed fodder for our characters. 

I had so many questions. Who did this young man want to impress? Why did he feel the Joe Cool walk would impress the person? Why did he change his gait after the person passed? See how this clarity of the young man's walk deepens our understanding and adds questions about him? 3-D material to the max!

Proviso: Getting wordy is not the answer. Purple prose, waxing eloquently, and pages of boring words do not help us understand a character. Being clear with our words is the answer

Think of killing two birds with one stone. So we invest a few extra words to communicate the manner in which a person moves and at the same time infuse what is conveyed by that style of movement. This could be a goldmine! 

Today I'm going to discuss a few styles of walk and see how we can help our characters show their emotion/thoughts in their movement.

Photo by Mary Vee
1. The cowboy walk. This phrase is used in many books today. What does this mean? After living in Montana, I've seen quite a variety of cowboy walks.

*We love to read about the handsome cowboy whose boots resonate on the floor, one step to every ten beats of our heart. Swoon
*What about the cowboy who walks off the arena after being thrown in a rodeo? His steps are wide to accommodate the chaps and planted firm in the dirt. The poor guy is embarrassed and hurtin'. 
*Consider the cowboy who found the missing calf tangled in brush and has to carry the injured animal to safety. The weight is heavy. His steps shorter. He is leaned back. His heart is filled with compassion. Sweat drips down his neck. 

The only thing all these cowboys have in common with their walk is their bowed legs.

Photo Courtesy

2. Maneuvering through a crowded area takes concentration.
Add to the mix: 
*A stroller. How many people's heals will be bumped? Space is a big issue. What if there is no elevator and your character has to tackle the escalator?
*The slow moving person in the way when your character is in a hurry. Of course the slow mover slides in the exact direction your MC wants to go, compounding the problem.
 I haven't seen too many happy/bubbly people moving in a crowd like this.

Photo Courtesy

Slipping sandals off and strolling on a beach with your man is romantic. 
But, a sandy beach can be difficult to maneuver.
*An unexpected wave can send our female MC running to dry sand. To avoid getting her clothes wet, she crosses the foot in the water over the other before taking another step. She might trip. This doesn't upset her, though. She'll break out in laughter.
*Bare footed walkers curl their toes and tip somewhat to keep their balance. Calf and thigh muscles are strained. She is focused. Can be distracted from a conversation by a jelly fish, or stepping on a pebble.
*Beach walking is a workout and can cause her to become winded during conversations.
*Breaks are sometimes taken to watch ships, etc.
*Losing track of where one started is a common problem on the return stroll. 

Photo Courtesy

Walking is so much more than moving from one place to another. Our characters are using this action to communicate

*small steps are taken when concerned (ice, stilettos, obstacles, pacing)
*long strides are taken when angry, in a hurry, motivated
*one foot is placed in front of the other (like in the picture) when having fun or following an intentional path. Children walk on cracks. Adults follow colored stripes in hospitals.
*hips sway when female characters call attention to themselves, shoulders sway when male characters want attention. Think of models or when we parade a new outfit.
*slow steps are used when contemplating, relaxing, sad, lost, lonely, reflecting,
*hard steps with intention are used when confident, angry, in charge.   

Consider one of your scenes. Most likely someone is walking at some point. How can you demonstrate what the character is feeling, thinking, sensing, etc by their movement? Can you substitute some clarity where you have the word walk in this scene?

Photo Courtesy for top photo: by hotblack-photo modified for this use. 


If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Ruth Logan Herne said...

This is a wonderfully insightful look at opening our eyes and mind to differentiate! Thank you, Mary!!!!

Crystal Thieringer said...

What a great article. You've made me think of other things too--like how my dad's whistle indicated his mood.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thank you Ruth.
It was the visit to Columbus that sparked the idea. Isn't amazing that God teaches us no matter where we are?

Mary Vee Writer said...

Your Dad's whistle. Great idea. And that makes me think of my Dad's snoring--how it changed in circumstances, like when he was "watching" the football game on Sunday afternoon! Hah! Funny memories, eh?

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Mary, amazing post! I haven't really considered all the different elements for walking before. Yes, my characters do walk a lot. I usually find myself looking for that one word (stalk, stride, saunter, etc). Sometimes that's okay, but other times it's good to slow the scene down, just a little, and show the emotion in the walk. Thanks for this!

Mary Vee Writer said...

I like your though, slow the scene down. I suppose in some cases it could be perceived as digging deeper, using 3-D glasses, or in some cases, depending on the writer, it could be moving the action because of the clarity. Huh. Good thought, Jeanne.