Today’s exercise tackles the issue of characters clearing their throat. It seems I am not the only one asking my people to cough-cough every couple of scenes. This is a prevalent action, sort of a cop out. Really, the solution would be to understand the character’s motivation better, and reveal that through more interesting actions (less ambiguous action).
All the with purpose of being less irritating. After all, do we want to share a room with someone who is always clearing her throat? No! What about sharing a room with someone who is trembling? Or someone who is licking his lips? Or a person who is cocking his head, looking at us?
These are more interesting, less ambiguous, and reveal more about who we are reading.
Some examples from Steinemann’s book:
Anxiety: grinding teeth
Apprehension: tugging on an ear
Concern: visible sweating
Deviousness: lack of eye contact
Distraction: rubbing arms
Distrust: abbreviated handshake
Fear: tightly clenched mouth
Guilt: crackling voice
Insecurity: shifting weight from foot to foot
Love: flawless personal grooming
Nervousness: drumming fingers
Uncertainty: biting nails
Isn’t it grand? I picked thees examples from the book because they each show me something. I can see a student, a dragon slayer, a soccer player, and even an alien doing any one of these. And these actions are all better than cough-cough, clearing the throat, that action we tend to overuse.
Replace all instances of throat clearing in the following. (I’ll do it, but you can too. Why not!)
1. “Well, it’s like this, see,” Morris said to the airport security officer. He glanced at the other passengers in line and then cleared his throat. “I stopped to help an old lady. She must have stole my boarding pass. I gotta get on that plane. Please.”
“Well, it’s like this, see–” Morris stammers, as the airport security officer glares at him. Meanwhile, Morris catches sight of a woman with a bright colored necklace and points towards her, tensing each of his muscles. “I stopped to help her. She must have stole my boarding pass!” And then turning back to the officer, who is wide-eyed in disbelief. “Sir . . .” “I gotta get on that plane! Please!!”
2. The professor scanned the bored faces in the lecture room. He cleared his throat. “What if all the coincidences in our lives were really caused by aliens with a hidden agenda? What if we found out? How would we feel?”
A student near the back flinched, and his face blanched.
The professor scanned the many long faces in the lecture room. It could be that they’re hungry, he thought, or it could be that I’m boring. Let’s spice things up! “What if,” began the professor, continuing to scan the room, and raising his index finger high. “What if all the coincidences in our lives were really causes by aliens with a hidden agenda?” He dropped opened the projector screen, to reveal his first slide. “What if one day we found out? How would we feel?”
As the professor dove into his lesson, a student near the back felt his stomach slowly dropping . . . then he flinched, and his face blanched. The professor was pointing at him, asking him a question.
3. Sister Ashanti stared at the photo of the cancer-ridden man on her Facebook timeline. Tears filled her eyes. So skinny. Could she do it? Just once more? She cleared her throat and placed her palm over the photo.
Sister Ashanti started at the photo of the cancer-ridden man on her Facebook timeline. Tears filled her eyes. So skinny. Could she do it? Just once more? She jangled her golden earrings and placed her palm over the photo. Then she started chanting.
4. “My wife has a real green thumb,” Arnold said to the florist, “but the plants she buys from the grocery store are always filled with soil gnats.” He cleared his throat and pointed to a Swedish ivy in the window. “That one looks nice, but I don’t want to bring anything home unless it’s pest free.”
“No worry.” The florist smiled. “You won’t find any bugs on my plants.”
“My wife has a real green thumb,” Arnold said to the florist. “Won some awards too.” Arnold’s chin was high up in the air. He continued: “But the plants she buys from this store are always filled with soil gnats.”
The florist raised an eyebrow, while Arnold continued, pointing to a Swedish ivy sitting pretty by the window. “That one looks nice, I’ll take it. But it better not have any gnats in it!”
“Oh, do not worry,” said the florist, eyebrow still raised, with the corners of his mouth also starting to go crooked. “You won’t find any bugs in this one. And, say, why don’t I knock off 10%, seeing as how you and your wife are a loyal customers.” The florist places the pot between the two of them, and then eases it forward. “And you can pay on credit, too. Come back next week . . . if you can . . . and pay me then.” Winking, the florist added: “What do you say?”
5. Morgan adjusted the drone’s altimeter control. Its video feed showed his creation zipping over a fountain, barely avoiding the spray that could short circuit its damaged electronics. He cleared his throat. Whew, that was close!
The drone dipped into an alley and careened around a corner. Out onto Monderson Avenue. Over pedestrians and sidewalk vendors.
Without warning, an open umbrella covered the camera lens and obliterated Morgan’s view. He cursed. Sabotage. Jacob. It had to be Jacob.
Morgan tightened the drone’s altimeter. Its screw was coming loose, from so much shaking the remote control. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! shouted Morgan, so mad he was crushing the control in a vice. Fixed on the video feed, he could see his precious creation zip above a waterfall, barely avoiding the spray that would have short circuited its damaged electronics. Like lemon to a wound. Insult to injury. Or . . . Whew! That was close . . . Morgan wiped the cold sweat from his brow, and continued controlling his baby.
The drone dipped now into an valley and jetted through some short trees. Elephant bones decorated the scene. Jackals and hyenas crackled as they chewed on the remains of carrion beasts.
Without warning, the video feed buzzed out into white static. It came back a second, but then completely blanked. Morgan cursed, threw his remote to the ground, and didn’t even bother to notice the smashing pieces fly around his bunker offer. Jacob! It must be him, scrambling the feed. There’s no hope. He will take the drone now.