Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Are You Standing There?

All the world's a stage, and all the
men and women merely players.
Before we get into the topic for today, I have to announce that today's guest blog post has been unavoidably delayed. The Marine who is writing it got called on suddenly and has to go fulfill his duty to our country. I think that's an excellent reason for it to be late. It will probably be up Monday.

Now! For the past few months, I have been trying to teach a friend of mine all about how to be more dominant, mostly for our mutual amusement. The first few "lessons" focused on the idea of making use of the space around you to take more control in relationships.

This is one of my pet theories: how people stand in relation to each other and to the objects in the room says a lot about them, and about their relationships with the other people in the room.

For example, I have one character who is very dominant. She'll lean on the wall near the door, not really talking, but very present. She doesn't like to sit in chairs, preferring to lean against tables or sit on top of counters where possible. Whenever she moves, she moves forward, claiming attention and rarely giving it back. She takes control of the area around her.

I have another character who is extremely passive. He's spent most of his life as a slave and has developed appropriate coping mechanisms. Instead of commanding a room, he does his best to fade from awareness. He'll be the one standing in the corner or sitting on the floor next to the side of the couch. His favorite move in a crisis situation is to take two large steps backward and sit down. For him, it's like shouting "Don't hurt me!" If you reach out to touch him he'll flinch away, and he always stays out of the way.

The way these characters interact with the space around them is unique to them, but each one of your characters deals with this space in similar ways. Some, like the principle actor in a play, like to claim center stage and be the focus of attention. Some are the stage hands, innocuously moving furniture to be ready for the next act. Most will fall in between, taking and giving attention in equal amounts.

When writing a scene, it's important to consider where each person is in relation to the objects and each other. Maybe your nervous type will be perched on a countertop, glancing out the window every few seconds. The social butterfly is darting between groups of people, hovering near the center of the room. The lovers that recently broke up might be standing as far away as possible, not looking at each other with every fiber of their being.

This is more complicated than merely describing a character's body language, because it doesn't focus on one character at a time. Instead, it takes into account the invisible social network describing their individual personalities and the way they interact.

However, it takes less time than describing body languages, which changes constantly as the character does. A little attention paid to where your characters are standing at the beginning of a scene can provide extra depth without adding unnecessary details. It's easy to go overboard with body language, but location and stance are difficult to mess up.

Equally, if you're having trouble with a flat or uninteresting character, take a look at where she is and why she would be there. Maybe she's with her friends, or avoiding her enemies. Maybe she placed herself where she could see all of the entrances. Maybe she's dominating the conversation, or wishing her friends would leave her alone.

It's not an exact science--few things are--but I find it interesting to explore. Where do your characters like to stand? Do they control the room, fade into the background, or lie somewhere in between?

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