Thursday, January 17

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, January 17, 2019 2 comments
One surprisingly helpful class from my undergrad days was a theatre course I took called "Basic Movement." In it, we learned some of the tools of the trade of acting--stances, carriage, gestures, playing to the audience, and of course, choreographed violence.

An ongoing assignment throughout the semester was keeping a "movement journal," in which we recorded observations about how certain body types move, motions unique to certain activities, and how people express emotion through movement. The goal of all this analysis was to build up our own repertoires of motion, so that we could embody various roles.

I've at times joked here about "stalking" students who remind me of my characters. These motion studies are particularly what I try to do. Once I've found the right body type, I've got the perfect model from which to get the data I need. I observe his stride--smooth, bouncy, swaggering, trudging? What's his usual posture? Is he apt to smile at strangers, or have a more closed expression? How does he hold objects? Ham-fisted? Gently by his fingertips? Loose and relaxed? Precise and uptight?

Emotional exchanges go on all the time on the college campus where I work. Because of that movement class, I now watch for the postures and gestures that make up the physical expression of those emotions. You don't even need to be in eavesdropping range to discern the kind of emotions people are expressing. Their bodies shout them.

A particularly powerful lesson from that class was our focus on the body rather than the face as an expressive vehicle. We had to wear dance unitards to every class, and did most of our in-class exercises and performances wearing masks. In many classes we did charades-like exercises: a pair would act certain emotions toward one another without speaking and in masks, and our classmates would have to guess what we were expressing. Those who'd put in the time researching for their journals usually won big time.

If you struggle with "talking head" dialogue, I recommend spending some time people watching and gathering data on how they move. Watch not only faces, but necks, shoulders, spines, hands, legs and feet. An acting class can be surprisingly horizon broadening, too.

Because this kind of research has borne so much fruit for me, I created a tool to help you create your own movement journal and keep those observations organized, to use in any fiction project, no matter what genre: Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal.

This pocket-sized paperback is easy to tote with you and turn waiting in the doctor's office, carpool line, or checkout lane into rich research time.

Get it here: Amazon (US) / Amazon (UK) / Barnes and Noble / Book Depository (free shipping worldwide)

How might a "movement journal" help your writing?


  1. I took an acting class in college, and this practice has served me so well in my fiction writing!! I kind of wish I could take another class now--having written much more--to refresh my ability to see things anew.
    I'm excited to check out your journal, Laurel!

    1. the way acting forces you to embody someone else is hugely helpful for fiction writing. I hope Emotions in the Wild proves useful for you!