A writing friend shared this exercise after attending a conference. Her group selected a few members to act out a few pages of a story while the rest of the attendees took notes on “action beats.”
What are action beats? Anything that can replace a dialogue tag. The instructor had the group focus on body actions rather than head bobbing actions such as nods, shaking of heads – oh, I hate to read these now! She shook her head. Takes me right out of the story, it’s such a cliché now. I avoid bobbling heads whenever possible, though I need to work on the smiles and grins. *sigh*
And that’s the point of this. Anything that reminds the reader s/he is reading will jolt them away from the storyline rather than more fully immerse them in it.
While most of us weren’t lucky enough to attend this conference, we have other resources available. Another writer friend suggested instead watching television and noting the actors’ gestures, stances etc. If you need to, turn down the sound to concentrate on the more subtle actions. (Yeah, my hubby will love that! lol) Unfortunately, not every scene will contain such dramatic and obvious motions as those in this pic. :)
This exercise will also help you focus more intently on dialogue as well. You may find you need to adjust your dialogue to better fit the actions.