Saturday, April 24, 2010

BODY LANGUAGE Blogfest: Scene from Walk With Me

Here's a snippet from my latest work entitled Walk With Me Into the Darkness for the BODY LANGUAGE BLOGFEST.

The book relies on body language and non-verbal cues to tell the story. See, it's story of isolation, and if the character is isolated, or in Henry's case, alone with his non-vocalizing dogs, the writer can't rely on dialogue to tell the story.

And I did NOT want to use the trick as seen in Cast Away, where the writer used a volleyball to introduce dialogue! CHEATER!

So to tell this story, I relied on body language, scenery, actions and movements, and visual cues. For much of the book, Henry doesn't speak.

Furthermore, internalizations bug me. I don't mind when they're done tastefully, but most of the time the internalization could be better demonstrated with an action or a decision (a choice: SHOW ME!). So, with that in mind, I avoided internalizations as well as dialogue.

- Eric

Body Language Blogfest from Eric Trant

Excerpt from Walk With Me Into the Darkness. Henry is in the East Texas Piney Woods, aka The Big Thicket. This is where I grew up, and in fact, I've lived scenes very much like the one below.

Henry is about 8 years old.

Yes, I have one line of dialogue.


The woodpecker stopped hammering. All Henry could hear was the sound of Whiskey whimpering and his own grunted breaths as he struggled against the creek mud.

Whiskey held off and wouldn't approach Henry. The dog paced back-and-forth and whined but wouldn't come near him. Every time the dog's paws sucked into the mud, Whiskey would back up and whine and pace and stare sideways at Henry.

Finally, responding to Henry's continued coos, Whiskey took one step, and then another, his tail and head level with his body as he stepped into something that smelled and looked of death. The dog's paws sunk in to his elbows but he yanked them free and pulled himself toward Henry, measuring each step of progress with long seconds of excursion. Henry pet the dog's head and let him lick his face and then he managed to turn Whiskey away from him. Henry took hold of the dog's tail with both hands.

Whiskey snapped at Henry and fired a machine-gun chant of high-pitched yelps. The dog couldn't turn enough to get his teeth into Henry, but he slapped his neck against his side trying to force Henry to release his tail.

Tugging the dog's tail, Henry pushed with his legs and pulled with his arms as Whiskey bellied himself out of the bog. The leaning over had released a bit of the suction and Henry felt himself coming free of the mud. The creek still had hold of his legs and so he shook himself side-to-side like a swimming fish until his waist and thighs broke free, and then his calves and feet came loose and he lay prone on top of the mud.

Whiskey's paws dug into drier ground the dog managed to get enough of a twist to slap his teeth into Henry's left hand. The dog twisted its tail out of Henry's hands and yelping with his tail tucked he ran a few meters away from Henry and crouched there licking his tail and showing Henry the whites of his eyes and teeth. The mud had blackened the white blaze on Whiskey's chest and the modest white socks on the dog's feet.

Henry belly-crawled until the ground felt firm enough to stand. Mud caked him from the chest down. Leaves sucked onto Henry like giant leaches. His right boot was gone and his pants had been pulled down to his ankles. He lifted his pants into place and sat beneath the tree until his woodpecker heart stopped banging against his chest.

He stood and unhitched the cleaned squirrel from the tree and patted his leg and smacked his lips at the dog. Whiskey shied away from him. Black but for the brown of his eyes and the white of his teeth and the pink of his tongue. Henry stood there patting his thigh and calling to the him until Whiskey finally came within arm's length of Henry.

"Here you go, boy. Good boy, good Whiskey."

Henry dropped the squirrel in front of Whiskey.



Roland D. Yeomans said...

You drew me right in. Your words fit the scene perfectly. But I thought there wasn't supposed to be any spoken words?

Come check out my body language entry and see what you think, Roland

Anonymous said...

I guess it doesn't count as dialogue if the person doesn't get a response??? Maybe??? I liked this, though... The description drew me in step by step... It was very engaging.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

That's okay, I have a couple lines of dialog in my entry too...
I'm not convinced by the dog's actions tho...he wouldn't turn against Henry..he would try to be super nice as if the tail-pulling was a punishment. But of course a squirrel carcass forgives all sins. :) Squirrel!!
Also I was confused by the woodpecker vs woodpecker heart. Was there a bird or no?
Anyways, nice lack of dialog! I hardly miss it.

Raquel Byrnes said...

That was a great line about the leaves like leeches. Great job with the scene...I didn't mind the dialogue.

Katie said...

Oh no, is this a DOG book?! I can't handle those. It's the fastest way to make me cry. lol

Good scene, though. :)

Amalia Dillin said...

You definitely didn't need any dialogue in this scene, that's for sure.

It's interesting to me that you feel so strongly about keeping your character relatively silent-- I think if I were that isolated, I would be talking to myself quite a bit, considering I already do :)

dolorah said...

Very vivid; I kept rubbing my leg to get the mud off.

I liked the intensity in this, and the conflict. Excellent pacing.

I too felt the dog wanting to bite the boy was out of character for the dog. Even if he didn't want to go in the mud, he would have sensed the Henry's danger and put up with the tail pulling.

Is this one of those true stories? Did your dog turn on you?

Well written scene, Eric. I enjoyed it.


Just Another Sarah said...

I liked your description of the mud, Eric.

I have dialogue in mine, as well, which I guess I got called on; honestly, I didn't think anything of it, when I included it. I think that the essence of your scene is not the dialogue, but the body language, and that's what's important. So, no worries.

Eric W. Trant said...

Roland, thanks. I originally did not have dialogue at all for Henry until about midway through the book, and then for two chapters, then not again until the end. This seemed too sparse -- I wanted the reader the hear Henry -- and so I added the dialogue.

F&M, I kinda thought the same thing about the dialogue. No response is the same as talking to yourself.

Andrew, you think the dog would LIKE me to pull his tail! Maybe the other dog, his brother, Scotch, would have let that slide, but not Whiskey. (Scotch is not shown in this scene.) This dog is based on an actual dog we used to have. Yeah. He'd've bit us for sure. Perhaps I didn't portray how hard Henry was pulling that tail.

Raquel, thanks! I thought the leeches was cliche and almost cut it. Maybe not.

KM, Oh yeah this is a dog book, and a lost boy book, and a lost girl book. Both my readers have already cried reading it.

Amalia, Some of my characters talk to themselves. Another character would've been whispering, or internalizing, but Henry was silent to me, both in head and mouth. The opening scene of the book is this: click. He's silent throughout, doesn't say much even when others are around to speak it.

Donna, This is a moderately true story. We got stuck in the mud plenty, though usually to the shins and knees, and we used vines and friends to pull ourselves out. The dog would've bit us if we'd grabbed his tail, even playing, and he'd've killed anything that got near us. This ain't a suburban lap dog. He's a mutt country dog who keeps that property line true. Big difference. Now if it'd been a she-dog, I agree, no biting.

Sarah, I'll check yours out and see about your dialogue, too. You're right that the motion is the essence, not the dialogue, and in fact my original scene did not have that one line of dialogue.

Thanks all for stopping by! Keep the comments coming, good, bad, and ugly.

- Eric

Sharon Axline said...

Very good! I loved Whiskey's reluctance to get in the mud. It reminded me very much of how my dogs act - of course for them it's going out in the rain :) I didn't mind the snippet of dialogue at the end - the conversation was already done with.

Jai Joshi said...


I was totally into the story, visualising the mud and the boy stuck in it.

Then when I got to the end and the dialogue I was like: "Wait a minute!" and then I scrolled up and saw that you'd admitted to having it already. Made me chuckle.

It's a useful tool to be able to convey so much in action and body language but dialogue and internal dialogue are good tools too.

Very interesting post.


Anastasia V. Pergakis said...

Great post! I agree with Sharon - the real conversation was done with, so that one line didn't matter much in the grand scheme of what happened.

Unknown said...

Great post, I was intrigued from the beginning!

Thanks for visiting my blog! U is for Unedited... wish I would have thought about that beforehand.

Eric W. Trant said...

Jai, thanks for the feedback! Writing action without dialogue is a necessary evil, I'm afraid. Sometimes you ~need~ the action to tell the story (show the story).

Harley, thank you for not moderating my comment owing to dialogue. I'd be curious as to your fine-toothed comb on some of my work.

Jen, Thanks for your comment. When you're running your alphabet soup posts next time, lemme know. I sure wish I'd've caught that one from A-onward.

To the readers about the dog's tail: I am taking your advice and modifying that bit in my copy. The dog will still react with a violent snap, but I will make the yank on his tail more clear.

Thanks all for the comments, and please keep em coming. The only way to improve is to listen to your readers!

- Eric

Eric W. Trant said...

Sharon, sorry, I missed you in my original response. I tried to capture a general dog's reluctance to do something they know is stupid. It's funny to watch dogs, because you do something and they refuse to follow. Really, it shows who's the smarter breed, doesn't it.

- Eric

Charity Bradford said...

Oh, I enjoyed this. It made me think of the first time I read Where the Red Fern Grows. I actually love dog books!

Very nice details, I could feel the mud tugging on my legs.

Eric W. Trant said...

Charity, thanks! Red Fern is still my all-time favorite book. Most of my stories have dogs in them, and close-knit siblings, and the woods. It's what I know.

- Eric

Clara said...

Awesome job. A.w.e.s.o.m.e!

Eric W. Trant said...

Clara: T.h.a.n.k.s.!

- Eric

Phoenix said...

I think this story is fantastic - very well written and I like the little amount of dialogue for what the situation is. I think that, given what I think is a fairly serious problem of being stuck in a bog, dialogue to self or to the dog would be useless and a character would want to focus on action. I'm definitely like you in the "show me, don't tell me" department :)

Eric W. Trant said...

Thanks, Phoenix! Looking forward to reading some of your work.

- Eric