Hiya, it's Karlie bringing you this post.
We've all used body language to get our point across, both in fiction and real life. But I'm afraid we've gotten into a rut - just HOW many times do your characters roll their eyes, anyway? How many disgusted sighs have you used in the past week?
Let's dig a little deeper.
One of the elements of good fiction, after all, is saying as much as possible in just a few words. Using body language can add tension to dialogue - while also making us wonder if the character means the words he/she is saying.
It can also add weight to the scene.
Did you know that...
- If Michael picks up something heavy, like a paperweight, and balances it in his hand, it will help him make an important decision? Studies have shown that people tend to give their opinion more weight if they're holding something heavy.
- If Lois hugs Tim, she instantly feels more relaxed? A man's scent comforts and calms a woman.
- If Jennifer washes her hands, she is less likely to second-guess that huge decision she just made? So if she breaks up with Jared, send her to the kitchen to wash the dishes and decide she's definitely better off without him.
Here are a few examples...
Do you rely on cliche, run of the mill body language? Or can you find a different way to get the point across?
Caitlin: I struggle with this so much! I have used The Emotion Thesaurus, but, for me at least, it usually results in me way over using particular actions. Honestly, it's something I'm still working on a lot, so I'm not sure I have a lot of advice. The best thing I've found is just closing my eyes and really trying to "see" the character say something and then describing what they do. But even that doesn't quite solve things. I'm definitely looking forward to what everyone else has to say, and, Karlie, the above actions are great. I will have to "steal" some of them. :)
Dan: When I hear "body language" I think about that old human resources training gem: "93% of communication is nonverbal." Where did that figure even come from? I did some digging, and found that it's attributed to Albert Mehrabian, a psychology professor who studied verbal/nonverbal communication at UCLA. He proposed that there are three elements of face-to-face communication: verbal elements (words), tone of voice, and body language. When it comes to liking someone's message about how they feel, he found that words only accounted for 7% of it. Tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%) had a much greater impact.
Even so, if someone wrote a book that was only 7% dialogue, I probably wouldn't read it. A lot of physical description and tone-of-voice modulation is going to get annoying pretty fast. So it's about finding unique body language that conveys information when it's needed. Body language can reinforce as well as contradict what's being said. If a guy tells a girl that he loves her, but does so while his eyes wander to a different girl nearby, that's good to know. Now, please excuse me while I go look in the Emotion Thesaurus for alternatives to eyebrow-raising.
Lisa: I try to give my characters a body language version of catch phrases. Like, one of my characters pokes his tongue on his cheek when he's nervous. One of my other characters tugs on her earlobe when she's excited. This same character is a dancer, and when she's uncomfortable she wants to do her favorite dance move - a pirouette. It's just not always socially acceptable, so she has to curb that reaction, sometimes mid-turn. I think one thing we can learn is that, yes, body language is situational, but it's also dependent upon personality. The rut we get into, I believe, comes from thinking of the situation only, not considering the personality. So, that's my sage advice. Think about the personality you've created before you give a kneejerk hum-drum body language movement. And when it's just some side character who wasn't important enough to do extensive character summaries, hence s/he doesn't have the most developed personality, I do something like Caitlin: close my eyes and imagine people's actions. Sometimes I even try to imagine myself in the situation and what my body language would be.