The talking heads avoidance device (THAD) is a technique coined by Elizabeth George. “By definition,” she writes, “it’s an action that accompanies dialogue.” It serves to avoid scenes that are nothing more than dialogue between two people by including some activity to help set the scene.
The THAD serves a number of importance purposes:
- It helps reveal something about the non-viewpoint character in a scene, who is typically the one engaging in the activity. It allows the POV character to observe their interlocutor and provide their perspective or judgement on them. It also helps show a character’s hobbies, activities, beliefs, collections, pursuits, passions. It helps show something about a character rather than telling about them.
- The THAD also adds texture to the viewpoint character, if he or she is the one engaging in the activity. It can reveal their emotional, psychological, or physical state.
- The THAD also adds details to the setting of the scene, building a stronger set of place.
- The THAD can increase tension or conflict between the viewpoint and non-viewpoint characters, especially if the THAD is something that is uncomfortable for the reader.
The THAD can be used to foreshadow things; to alter the tone of a scene; to set the mood; or to underscore the theme.
George, Elizabeth. Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel. Viking, 2020.