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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Estelle Ryan – Body Language in Writing

5:30 AM Posted by James Noel , No comments

Body Language in writing

by Estelle Ryan

We give away so much of our thinking with a simple movement of our hands, our feet or a twitch in our faces. Very seldom do writers use body language and what it reveals to their advantage. As a quick side note, I need to mention that too much body positioning in the prose can become distracting. This is a tool, and like everything else should be used in moderation and with discretion.

A few fun facts about our body language that can also be used in writing:

  • When we are uncomfortable, unsure or feel unsafe we pacify ourselves with certain gestures.
    • A man might adjust his tie to deal with such emotions.
    • Rubbing or massaging the neck also helps, as does pinching the skin just under the chin – it’s rich with nerves and when stroked calms us down.
    • A woman would play with her necklace (that’s me!), but most often she would cover her suprasternal notch (the hollow just above the breastbone).
  • When we are comfortable with someone, our whole body will point to that person. The opposite is also true. Our bodies point in the direction we need/want to go. If you’re in a rush to leave, your feet will be pointing to the door, then your knees will follow, your torso, etc.
  • In high confidence, we steeple our hands, fingertip to fingertip. Lacking that confidence, we intertwine our fingers and wring our hands. A very telling gesture is clutching one hand with the other, and using a thumb to stroke the other hand. It is a self-comforting gesture and indicates distress, discomfort and a lack of confidence.
  • We lean towards people we like and away from those we don’t. Quite logical. We also lean towards good news and away from bad news. If someone you like is telling you something sad, uncomfortable or aggravating, your body will automatically shift away from it.

Interesting, right? There are many more examples like this. Hey, there is an entire field of study dedicated to nonverbal communication. I dare you to try this in your writing. Instead of telling how uncomfortable the man is while being interrogated by the police, show him rubbing the back of his neck. Instead of telling how arrogant the manager is, show him leaning back in his chair with his interlaced hands behind his head.

Since my main character is a specialist in nonverbal communication, it is much easier for me to use body language since this is how she perceives the world. Remember who your characters are and let them lead you to how much you will use this tool. We see, analyse and understand an astounding amount of information everyday. A lot of that is our unconscious competence in interpreting body language. When writing, use your own knowledge of body language or research this on the internet or with books on this topic. You writing will be richer for this.

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Genre – Mystery

Rating – PG13

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