If you’ve never written fiction before, it’s easy to make the mistake of having two characters standing in white space just talking to each other. But you know real life isn’t like that.
How many times have you stood motionless, hands by your sides, in conversation with somebody else? Even if you said once, that’s still an exaggeration. None of us do. If our bodies aren’t constantly shifting position, or we aren’t playing around with props beside us, there’s always some kind of action going on.
Take for example an awkward scene between two characters in a coffee shop. Putting aside the subject of the awkwardness, you’ll know how it’ll look as a bystander. There’ll be the constant scratching of the head, tapping of foot, and eyes looking everywhere except at the person that’s speaking to them.
And then there’s also the use of props. You’ll see a character playing around with the contents of their coffee cup, or the cup itself. Or possibly picking up a sugar sachet and playing around with it, keeping their hands busy as a distraction. Or any number of things.
One of the best tips I’ve heard of how to get over this, is to watch TV or movies with the volume turned down. In this way you can’t rely on what’s been said, but have to go on the body language instead. Once you do this you’ll notice how the actors change body posture, play around with props beside them, and walk around the room to convey the message they’re trying to give to the other character and you the audience.
Your homework for today is to watch TV for the next few days in this way, or watch people interact from afar. What can you tell about the discussion without hearing what’s being said? Once you’ve seen it in real life, go back to the piece you’re currently writing and rewrite it. The more realistic you can make the scene, the more your readers are going to get lost in the piece.
Having said that, don’t go to the other extreme of thinking that you have to include every little tiny body movement, Give too much description and you’re going to bore your readers to death. Which is probably worse than white space writing.