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Word Help

The Storyteller

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Mar 18, 2014
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Hi all! I'm struggling to find the right word or words for something, so I thought I'd pop by here for a bit of help!

You know how people sometimes raise their hands as a gesture of peace, or to represent that they mean to harm etc.? I'm wondering if anyone has some ideas for how to actually write this gesture.

Just saying "so and so raised his hands" is confusing to me. I either think of raising hands like in a school setting, or someone pointing a gun at them. I have said "so and so raised his hands in a gesture of peace" but that is pretty clunky.

I feel like there must to a word that would more concisely capture this idea, either a better verb or an adverb that would get it across "so and so raised his hands ____ly". Or perhaps an alternative gesture that shows someone is trying to diffuse a situation or show themselves to be harmless? I've tried googling ways of describing this, but without much luck, so I'm hoping you guys are more helpful than google! :LOL:

Thanks!

-The Storyteller
 

The Judge

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I can't think of a verb or adverb that would work exactly as you need it. I've never used the hands raised by way of showing no harm, but I do have my characters gesture by way of acknowledgement or by way of saying sorry, and usually I just spell it out like that, so there's no mistake. In a situation like this I'd probably say something like "He held out his hands, showing them to be empty". Long winded, but there's less chance for confusion. Actually, thinking about it I have had a character walk forward "arms well out from his side" which amounts to much the same thing.
 

Amelia Faulkner

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I think your key is to use moar werds.

Seriously though, you could go "He raised his hands in peace" but you need to come at it in a more immersive way. What PoV is this sentence from? What emotions are high in the person doing the raising of hands? Are they good at expressing themself, or are they often misunderstood or otherwise not very good at getting their point across? Why are they raising their hands? Is someone pointing a gun at them? Are they attempting to take control of a situation or minimise their own risk? What's going on in the scene and who is in it will control how you depict this.

For example.

Let's say you're writing in close 3rd, because I write close 3rd so that's what I default to.

Let's say your protagonist is a guy, we're in his PoV, and he's attempting to defuse a potentially volatile confrontation. Let's say, for argument's sake, that his name is Terry. I would go at it something like this (first draft, unedited, etc):

Terry took a careful step forward and turned his palms toward the room. He could all but taste the tension in the air, and one false move from anyone could set alight to the blue touch paper any second now.
If he didn't get this right everyone in front of him was going to die. Worse, he could die, and he was pretty set against that idea.
Another step. He held his breath as eyes began to swivel toward him, and he moved his arms a couple of inches away from his body to make it clear that he was unarmed.
The motion almost killed him. Guns followed gazes, their muzzles like little glimpses into the eternal blackness he was about to sink into if he cocked this up.
Terry didn't dare take another step. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath, more to forewarn them that he intended to speak than due to any sudden need to stretch his lungs. The more he could do to let them know he meant no harm the less likely they'd do him harm first.
He hoped.
"I'm unarmed," he rasped, his voice thin to his own ears. "Look. I just want to talk." He splayed his fingers, and then slowly - so slowly - raised his empty hands so that they could all see them. He meant for it to show that he came in peace, but who knew what people like this thought of such gestures. Maybe they saw him as weak, or a fool. Easy pickings. All he could do was his best.​

Rather than "Terry raised his hands in peace". If you see what I'm getting at :)
 

The Storyteller

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Sounds like there isn't an exact term for it. Perhaps I need to move away from this gesture, and find a different way to get the point across.

And to Amelia Faulkner, I was sort of asking in general, instead of for a specific scene, so that when I use it I'd have a few options for wording. The scene I recently edited has the main character do this while approaching someone he just interrupted in the middle of something. She's armed, and wary of them, but it's not a highly tense moment. Like, he's not scared she's going to attack them. He's just trying to get her attention and have a discussion, and sort of reassure her that he just wants to talk since she seems wary.

Thanks for the feedback!

(Danymcg, the meme made me laugh. :LOL: )
 

dannymcg

"It places the lotion in the basket"
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After I posted that meme I did an image search for "chest height neutral shrug", this gave some weird stuff but nothing resembling the gesture you mean.
I wonder how they write it in screenplays?

One example is from the 1960 Magnificent Seven, Yul Bryner and Steve McQueen driving the hearse, Horst Bucholz (Chico the new gunfighter) is following them out of curiosity. A shotgun swings his way and he does that gesture. Mr McQueen then disregards him as a threat
 

The Storyteller

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Yah, I'm not sure how they'd write it in screenplays either! Which is why I kinda got stuck on it, because it seemed like there should be a natural description for it, but nothing seemed to fit quite right.

It might be a little clunky but what about "raised his/her hands in a placating gesture" or possibly "raised his/her hands in surrender" if you really want to go for brevity?
I like the placating gesture idea. I think 'placating' might have been just the word I was looking for! Thanks Gonk!
 

dannymcg

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Today I was playing about with my phone, learning how to download clips from YouTube, edit them and then upload the edited clip back to YouTube.
(I know this thread is two years old but I wanna show off!)
This six second clip shows the classic 'wave hands at chest height, not involved' gesture:-

 

Phyrebrat

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I’ve used ‘in supplication’ before. It’s a more extreme version of ‘placating’ and I’m dead posh like that...

Works well for clergy/pious/ecclesiastical settings.

pH
 

The Judge

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It's a good word -- and posh! -- but its meaning is different from "placating" so though I'm sure Phyrebrat knows the distinction, anyone reading his post and thinking it's a pure synonym needs to take care.

While it's often used by those with less power, anyone can try and placate anyone else -- it's simply a way of trying to reduce tension or appeasing the other party/parties so anger doesn't spin out of control. But an act of supplication is asking, praying, even begging for help; it's humble and humbling, always directed from the weak to the strong (strong in authority, if not in immediate physical power), and it isn't confined to asking the other side to put its weapons away.
 

sknox

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I'd vote for not trying to characterize the movement. I'd even ask why the movement is needed. Presumably it's a moment of conflict and one party wants to back away or otherwise indicate they mean no offense. So, let them shrug or take a step back, or even just glance away. Let the other party pick up on the cue, or not. IOW, let the action of the scene communicate the -ly.
 

Steve Harrison

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I recently addressed this in my WIP and settled for, 'she smiled and raised her hands in a surrender gesture to reassure me she meant no harm.'

I don't know if that will survive the edit, but it will suffice if I can't think of anything better. With anything like this, I spell it out, highlight it in red for review later, and move on.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Well, Steve's post prompts me to consider that "reassuring" may be the word you are looking for. "He raised [or spread] his hands in a reassuring gesture."

Although when I usually make that gesture it's to tell my dog that there is no more food in the offing. "See, my hands are empty. No more doggie treats. All gone." Which is neither placating nor reassuring (quite the reverse from her viewpoint).

The gesture can also accompany the words stop or enough. "Enough of this. Calm down. Stop sniping at each other. The matter is settled." Etc.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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Dipped flag, Sword held behind, sword held out hilt first, Hand accross heart in salute.

I believe saluting was the traditional method knights used to show there visor was up or something of the sort.

I.E. If you meant businsess you dropped your visor and charged.

Or invent your own.

He gave the universal signal of peace, placing his fore arm across his eyes..

Cats do something similar. If they are happy wth the situation or are trying to show no ill will they close their eyes - Giving the other cat a chance to strike - and so showing "I mean you no harm". They usually keep them slightly open - say half a millimeter - because cats are cats afterall.

Dropping to one knee he extended his arms upward in the universal sign of submission.

" Go f*** yourself," he shouted in the universal welcome of peace.



 

psychotick

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Hi,

I think you're overthinking this. You don't actually need a word. How about: "He raised his hands and stepped back to show he wanted no part of it."?

Cheers, Greg.
 
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