It;s my honest opinion that any writer worth their salt should study body language and know precisely how kinesics work. If you want to know how to write character emotions that are believable then you need to know how people naturally covey emotions.
It’s scientifically proven that 93% of all communication is body language. That means that if you want to legitimately communicate your characters, you need to master body language. And yet, so many writers rely on “crutch” body language gestures like nodding and smiling. Using such crutches completely destroys the believability of your characters, making them two dimensional.
So, how should writers use body language in their work?
Using body language in your writing
Let’s start by dividing body language into two different sections. The first section I’ll call “Naked Body Language.” These are thing you’re character will do regardless of what they’re wearing or where they are.
Examples of “naked body language” include: smiling, nodding, various leg positions, fidgeting and so on. These are gestures that are separate to the environment of the fiction.
The second section we’ll call “Circumstantial Body Language.” For instance, let’s say that your character is feeling paranoid and they are (just for example) cooking in a kitchen. Feeling paranoid will change the way they act in their environment Perhaps they’ll cut up that carrot overly carefully–She cut the carrot as though she were performing brain surgery.” This is an example of “Circumstantial Body Language.”
Usually, people who study body language only rely on “Naked Body Language.” But writing fiction is different. You need to bring both your character and their environment to life. By using “Circumstantial Body Language” you can achieve this.
Now then, let’s go a little deeper.
Learning Body Language for Writing Fiction
I’ve already written two extensive resources on body language, which are available on my other site. The first is an online body language guide. The second is a complete and comprehensive body language book. So, on this page I’m going to share some examples of bringing body language to life through fiction. This will help you to write character emotions which are more powerful and more believable.
Pointers on using body language in fiction
SMILES: Be honest, how many times have you written that a character smiles? If you always just write “Character X smiled” then you’re missing the point. Smiles are unique, you have to write them in unique ways.
EXAMPLE: She gave me that you’re-cute-but-no smile. OR He smiled like a rottweiler that wanted to bite my leg off.
Write your smiles in unique ways. If a smile conveys something, let people know what that something is.
STANDING: People stand in soooo many different ways. A guy at a bar who’s trying too hard to look like a tough guy will smile with his legs comically far apart. A man who’s trying to gain sexual attention will hold his hands around his belt with his hands indicating to his junk. A girl who’s trying to avoid sexual attention will stand with her legs crossed. And so on.
Shaking head: So you’re character doesn’t agree with something, and you want to show that by having them shake their head. YAWN. For starters, there are many different types of headshakes. “He shook his head like a puppy after a bath” for example.” There are also tons of alternative ways to convey disagreement. Folding the arms over the chest, for instance, says, “You’re not coming closer.” A finger wag means the same as a headshake. Turning the body away is the same as folding the arms, and so on.
More on Circumstantial Body Language for Writers
In my opinion, the best way to convey character emotion is through a combination of envirornment and body language: circumstantial body language. Here are some examples.
An example for a pissed off wife in a kitchen: She set the meat aside and wagged the knife in the air, the blade pointed straight at my lower midsection.
Example of a woman coming on to a guy in a club: She set her handbag down on the table directly in front of me, as though offering it to me. (this is a classic body language sign. Women put their handbags in front of guys to show they trust them and are welcoming them).
Example of an unhappy elderly person on their birthday: She chewed the damn chocolates I’d given her like they were bitter medicine, her lips rolling reluctantly like a dying slug.
Combine body language with circumstance, with props, with clothing and environment, and you’ll get a more 3D feel.
And that’s my quick look at body language for writers. For a complete comprehensive guide to body language read my new book: Master of People.
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