Talking Heads by Linda Glaz

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Yes, you read that right. I’m going to be discussing talking heads. Now, I know you’ve all heard the expression before in writing classes. Too often, the gestures and actions only happen from the shoulders up! Once again, you read that right. Let’s look at these samples:

“I don’t know.” Rob shrugged. “Nor do I.” Cassie frowned. She furrowed her brow, doing her best to think through the problem. Rob’s jaw tightened, wondering what the answer could be.

“I love you,” he murmured as he nuzzled her neck. She returned a sassy grin. “Right back atcha, big guy.” After her breathy sigh, they cuddled, foreheads locked together while whispering promises of forever love.

“Do you think our folks will understand?” She worried the edge of her lip. “They might, they might not.” His brows lifted. “Who knows?” He heaved a groan of monumental proportions.

We have a habit of concentrating our action where the words are coming from, the talking heads. But that’s not reality. Even talking comes from our entire bodies. We use body language to show whether our words are angry, happy, loving, compassionate, sarcastic, and so forth. Let’s check out this sample:

“I don’t think I’ll go.” Enough innocent, correct? She just doesn’t want to go with this guy. But cross her arms and tap her foot when she says it, and we feel the sparks and daggers shooting from her eyes to him. Instead, she’s actually saying, “I am NOT going, don’t ask again, buster!” And we know that unwritten portion by her body language. If we had followed her original “I don’t think I’ll go” with—she gave a shake of her head, we’d have had no clue how she felt. But she made it clear with the full body response.

Okay, so what’s the big deal in the grand scheme of things? Cardboard, cookie cutter characters who bob and shrug, wink and giggle. They sigh a lot, they blink a lot, they tense cheek muscles and nibble their lips. While all of these are fine, they are NOT the total of a human’s behavior. And when only talking head action is used, we are missing the whole person. We are accepting very little personality from our characters. Write a short scene using only talking heads, then rewrite it with full bodied characters, and just see the difference that it makes.

Find more tips like this from Linda Glaz as she teaches workshops for writing and theater at The Well Conference in April. Register today!