I was reading bookplayer's blog about putting in pets as tools to set the environment. Huh! That's pretty nifty—not something I properly thought about. I'll definitely keep that in mind for future stuff.
And then it brought me around to thinking about how I set atmosphere in my fics, and then over to some writing vices I make heavy use of, and I thought maybe I'd make a post about it and stuff. Mostly, it's on the topic of props.
I'm a big proponent of giving ponies props in a scene—in fact, it's something I'd say I rely on quite heavily. See, people are always saying 'no Ball, you can't just write pages and pages of unattributed, uninterrupted dialogue'... and that vexes me. But when I stop and think about it, I generally agree that those kinds of scenes do work better when you throw some character actions in it. It really does add another level to scenes, and really gives a chance to subtly indicate what the characters are feeling, or the way in which they're saying something, without having to use an adverb. Like, I mean, the good old '...she said, running a hoof through her mane.' It puts the reader in the scene, because you can see the character doing that, and also it adds to the dialogue, because it's something that people do when they're talking, and it means something to you. And it's nicer than saying 'she said, annoyed' or 'she said, frustrated'... and also adds a bit of ambiguity inherent in the gesture, which can be evocative and stuff. I mean, some people would argue against being intentionally vague, but I lurv it.
Anyway, back around to the point of this—it's clear that actions like that improve dialogue, but there's really only so many times you can have a pony run their hoof through their mane, or raise their eyebrows, or blink (wait, maybe that one's just a me thing...[bonus round: go through my latest fic and see how many times I mention a pony blinking! Note: if you need to use your fingers for counting, be advised you'll need more than one hand.]).... before it becomes distracting. And maybe you're the kind of person who can't come up with other general things to make ponies do very easily. And maybe you're the kind of person that can't come up with clever metaphors like Bandy can.
Maybe it's clear by this point—I'm that kind of person.
So! A grand solution to this grievous writing handicap—of not being able to come up with adequately diverse body language for your characters to perform in order to keep you readers entertained—is to give your pony a prop to play with! As soon as you do that, you can take an easy breath and smile, because now it's easy. Every time you need a pause in the dialogue, or to show a particular suitably vague emotion, or colour a bit of dialogue a certain way, just have them fiddle with whatever it is.
I think the main thing is just to have them interacting with their environment in some way. You've got them in an setting already, so engage it. Have them pull things out of it and use them, or move them around, or whatever. A great thing about that is that it also helps make the scene stand out for the reader because of the way it makes it special to that setting. It's not just a scene that could have happened anywhere. Just like in D&D, it's a great way to make a memorable encounter scene.
It can be anything—but you can definitely find some trusty fall-backs. Like Ball's absolute number-one top pick for a prop? A glass of liquor. It seamlessly integrates itself into most any type of conversation—from meaningful to dramatic to flirty to just casually friendly. Thinking about it, this is probably a good half of the reason there's so much booze in all my fics. Like, 'Drinking Alone, Except with Two' is probably the best example of me doing that, and 'See White' would follow that closely. Through both stories, characters are constantly picking up, setting down, swirling, sipping, toasting, refilling. finishing, and mourning over empty glasses. And that doesn't even cover some of the more dynamic things like splashing, sloshing, dumping, and spit-taking! Oh, also glasses and liquor bottles look really cool, so you can just fall back to describing how they look to set atmosphere, too. I mean, glasses with liquid in them are cool right? Tell me you've never caught yourself just staring down at your glass in the middle of a social outing. The light can fall on them in interesting ways, they have a smell and taste to talk about—they're just pretty darn useful, I say.
But obviously it can be other, more innocent things, too, than liquor. I imagine. Like... I'm sure there are other things. Well, I mean, nothing comes immediately to mind... huh. Ah! Hang on! I had Octavia smoke in 'Mercy'! That was a good one, too! And lots of fun things to do with that. Hmm, that's actually not better, though, is it? Ehn, I think you can squeeze by with an 'Everyone, ten and up' rating with smokes and booze, right? ...Maybe?
Grasping at something to fill in the gaps in a scene with dialogue? Keep your characters and your readers busy with props!