Body language really does speak volumes, but I often fail to completely take advantage of this important tool in my writing. A wise woman once pointed out that my characters seemed to use their “eyes” a lot, and that maybe I should go out and actually watch people to get a better sense of the many ways they express themselves through body language. But, it seems I never quite find enough time to just sit someplace with a nice cup of tea and watch the world go by, however, I have found everyday moments in my own life to stop and notice others.
Below are some basic examples of improving writing by adding body language:
- “I want to go home,” Jen said sadly.
- “I want to go home,” Jen said, looking down at her shoes and blinking back tears.
- “I’d rather die!” she screamed.
- She narrowed her eyes and leapt to her feet. “I’d rather die!”
Recently, I was in a perfect setting for “people watching.” A group of perhaps ten people gathered together. Some of the members of this group knew each other, some had heard of each other, and others were complete strangers. As I watched this group, even I began to feel anxious and uncomfortable. It was clear there were a number of things that were not being said, but hung in the air like the smell of burnt toast. Here are just a few of the things I noticed:
- The meeting of eyes or avoidance of them
- The leaning towards or away from
- Nervous habits: tapping, shifting, etc.
- Lulls in conversation accompanied by unusual amounts of body movement (either a lot or not enough)
I still struggle with adding these important realistic elements to my characters at times, but I am making a real effort in this regard. This is mainly because I’ve seen how much it improves my own writing when I do. I’ve also noticed that most of my favorite writers appear to be experts when it comes to this skill.
How many of you feel you are good at adding body language to your characters? What has helped you to improve in this area? What is one tip or piece of advice you would give in regards to this topic?