Let's Talk Body Language

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1.    Body language adds depth to dialogue.

2.    More than 50% of human communication is nonverbal.

3.    Shows how your character’s emotions affect his or her actions.

4.    Helps you show rather than tell your reader everything.

5.    Use it in moderation. If overused, it can slow down your story.

6.    Don’t get so specific that it distracts the reader.

7.    There are four types of body language to be aware of:

a.     Facial expression

i.      Eye contact is direct and powerful. The eyes are always talking. Universal expression includes a smile, a frown, a scowl, a smirk.

b.     Gestures

i.      Fidgeting shows boredom and restlessness. Pressing fingers together to form a steeple shows interests, assertiveness and determination. Touching the nose or rubbing eyes indicates discomfort, or it may even be a signal that your character is not being completely honest. A hand to the back of the neck may indicate withdrawal from a conversation or even embarrassment.

c.     Posture

i.      Body posture can be closed or open. Interested people always pay attention and lean forward. Leaning backward demonstrates aloofness or rejection. A firm handshake equates assertiveness or honesty. Folding arms across your chest is protective and will give the impression of a character who’s closed, guarded, and defensive.

d.     Space relationship

i.      There are four distinct zones in which most people operate: intimate distance, personal distance, social distance, and public distance. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxemics.

Writing Exercise 1:

A member will portray an emotion without talking. Write down what emotion you believe is being used.

Writing Exercise 2:

Your character is in an elevator. A stranger enters the elevator. Show the emotion desire without using any dialogue or telling the reader that “the stranger wants me.” Use body language to convey desire.

Writing Exercise 3:

Use your copy of an emotion from The Emotion Thesaurus to show body language with the following prompt: Your character sits across the table from his or her significant other. The topic of marriage has come up for the first time in this couple’s relationship. Show the emotion through body language and dialogue. Example: You have the emotion guilt because your character has been cheating on the other.


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The Yukon Writers’ Society is an encouraging, supportive group for fiction writers in Yukon, Oklahoma. They meet biweekly on Thursdays to embrace accountability, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to help group members start and finish their books. The Yukon Writers’ Society was founded in 2016 and provides free meetings for its members. Their group anthology, Shivers in the Night, was published in April 2018.