Use Body Language to Add Depth to Characters by Kay Keppler
Let’s welcome back monthly columnist, editor, and novelist, Kay Keppler, as she shares with us “Use Body Language to Add Depth to Characters.” Enjoy!
More than 50 percent of human communication is nonverbal. We react to situations—and other individuals—with facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch, and the use of space, as well as with words.
Most of us are not aware of these micro-expressions and movements, but others interpret our words, actions, and feelings by what they see—our body language.
Even when we don’t verbalize our thoughts, most of us throw off clues about what we’re thinking and feeling.
We don’t just respond to another’s speech, either: Our body language can be an involuntary reaction to one of the five senses.
So if we want to understand others, we have to know how to read these reactions.
How to Use Body Language in Your Fiction
The good news is that in any society, specific micro-behaviors—body language—have accepted interpretations.
For example, facial expressions often reflect emotions—from happiness to sadness, depression, or anger. When a person shows you a smile that’s genuine, their eyes crinkle. A lack of crinkles around the eyes suggests a fake smile. At one point, researchers believed that making a genuine smile was nearly impossible to do on command.
Another example: Normally, a person needs to blink 6 to 10 times per minute, but this rate slows dramatically when s/he looks at a person or object s/he finds attractive. The slower blink rate can be a good indicator of romantic interest.
Writing Body Language
Applying body language to your characters is one of the best ways to show and not tell when we write.
Used judiciously, it adds depth to your characters, revealing the emotions they can’t or won’t speak aloud. And it can add depth and richness to dialogue.
Amanda Patterson at Writers Write has devised cheat sheets for body language—for every emotion, she supplies a well-known and understood body language response. See if these help you write deeper, more complex characters.
Editor’s Note: We offer a course in Barany School of Fiction on exploring the senses in crafting your characters and editing your fiction. We go beyond the 5 senses and cover over 21 senses you can use to craft compelling characters! Check out this home study course here: https://school.bethbarany.com/p/beyond-5-senses.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
She lives in northern California. Contact her here at Writer’s Fun Zone in the comments below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask questions, suggest topics, or if you prefer, complain.
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