Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Never Underestimate the Power of Body Language

Hello again, wacky and wonderful blogosphere! My husband is always like, "How can you be on the computer so much?!" He has no idea what goes on here... and how you can literally get blogged down for hours. (I'm coining that phrase btw.) Can you believe NaNo is six days away??? Okay, breathe in, breathe out ...

In other news, I just read that lit agent Chip MacGregor is hanging up the blog for good. He had a really helpful one too. But I get it. I mean, how much more can you say once you've said it all??

I stumbled upon an awesome blog the other day (which I neglected to copy the name of and I'm sure it's somewhere on my Google reader but I just don't have time to find it right now) with a post on the importance of body language. She had a list of suggestions, which I took down and will share with you below.

My characters tend to do a lot of shrugging, rolling of the eyes, nodding, etc.... you know, the cliches. But if we really focus on the body language we won't have to add in those extra adjectives, adverbs, etc. Body language can even take the place of dialogue tags. Body language conveys emotion without us having to tell the reader. It allows us to show the reader. Could be as simple as crossing one's arms over his chest.

So here's what I found, I'm sure there's plenty more, but this will get the ball rolling....

* The direction someone is facing - good for first impressions of a person's mood, where their attention is focused, and how safe they feel.

* Where a person is looking (making eye contact or looking at a particular object) - good for showing what a character is paying attention to, and how ready they are for conversation or confrontation.

* Open or closed body posture - this shows mood and receptiveness. The more bunched up a person is, the more uncomfortable they appear . A person can also close body to one side and open to another by crossing the legs and turning the shoulders, perhaps to show preference to one love interest over another.

* Placement of the hands - this shows mood, anxiety level, and can also give information about character and personality depending on what the person is holding or what they are doing with their hands.

* Height of the shoulders - another mood indicator.

* Ease of breathing - great to show fear, relief, relaxation, excitement, etc.

Do you have some to add? Please share!


Catana/Sylvie Mac said...

I've been trying to indicate mood or attitude with body language. It does remove the need for a lot of telling. Some that I use, any of which could be considered cliches: slumping, looking off into the distance, bowing the head, clenching and unclenching the fists, closing the eyes, any kind of nervous gesture.

Hart Johnson said...

Ha! I'm terrible with some of those overused cliches... nodding and eye rolling especially. I also seem to have a snorter in every book *shifty*

I am good with the eye contact thing--I write some mystery, so that is a biggie for honesty. And the breathing (my other genre is suspense) GREAT suggestions on the open, closed, though, and shoulders..

I also tend to raise en eyebrow (disbelief), and let physical interactions indicate relationship--for example in my WiP I have a 'brother in law'--that is a relationship that could be good or strained, but I have him kiss my MCs cheek when he arrives (and say 'hey sis'--which is friendly and plutonic) and when he leaves, he pinches her elbow--contact for closeness, but nothing that could be construed as sexual.

M.L. Mansfield said...

I's trying to make each character have a nervous habit. Whenever Gen feels uncomfortable, she tucks her hair behind her ear (this is actually something I do too LOL). Finn bites at his lower lip.

LTM said...

awesome, awesome post. This is something I actually DO do... the one about using more sensory info (movement, taste, sound) I had to work on...

Thanks, girl! :o) <3

Quinn said...

I thought of Ursula from the Little Mermaid when I saw the title of your post. She sings that line when she steals Ariel's voice ("Poor Unfortunate Souls").

Anyway. you're right, body language is so important and an easy way to show something about the character.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those are ones I use more often. A character's stride conveys a lot as well.

Pk Hrezo said...

@Catana I use those too.. shoulders slump, far off look! But they're so good!

@Hart Nice to have you here! I do those too... lol ...and I think eye contact is so important!

@Marisa THose are really good little character flaws. I try to give mine some as well.

@LTM Hope your revisions are going well!!!

@Quinn Righty-o, mate! I snagged that from Ursula.

@Alex THat's a great idea! I've been using that verb a lot too.. stride.

Marieke said...

The eyes. Not just where the character's looking, but what the eyes are doing. Like eyes to the upper left corner when you say something apparently indicates lying. It's close to looking somewhere, but not quite the same imo.

Also mouth/jaw. Tight jaw, thin lips, biting on your lip, etc.

And general body language in a conversation. Copying the other person's behavior to show you're comfortable as well as agreeable.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Wonderful post! This is something I really pay attention to when I'm revising. I love your examples. You need to find that post and share it!! :-)

Summer Ross said...

Great post. I put some of these into my writing, but I find its hard to include more than a few at a time. Thanks for sharing

Oddyoddyo13 said...

I've never thought about that before! Seriously, thanks for sharing-I have a bunch of eye rollers too! Haha :)

Melissa said...

I love using all types of movement.

great summation of things we can use.

Jennifer Hillier said...

I have a character who constantly cracks his knuckles. It's starting to annoy even ME.

Okay, that probably means I need to scale it back... :)

Sam said...

Great post-I love reading about what different body postures communicate-very interesting (and occasionally alarming when I realize some of the things I've been conveying subconsciously.) I read somewhere that pinching the bridge of the nose means you're showing great concern or thought about something (though I do that when I'm tired) and also that touching your nose indicates doubt...or a negative reaction of some sort... hmmm.