Hi SEers. John here with you today. I’m going to further discuss the idea of giving characters life with gestures. The reason for gestures (or beats as they are sometimes called) is to provide a character some tools to share with the reader without the writer explaining what is going on. These tools can communicate moods and nuances when the character is speaking.
It is always uncomfortable for a reader to be forced to guess what a character means or what emotional state that character is in. When the author tries to help out by explaining the current emotional state of the character, the reader many times is taken out of the story in the classic “show/ don’t tell” mistake.
So, what are the various forms of nonverbal communication, and how would a writer use them to covey the intended non-verbal message of a character? As can be imagined, there are hundreds of ways we humans communicate with each other without saying a word.
All these can be grouped into nine primary areas. Facial expressions, gestures, paralinguistics (tone, volume, inflection, and pitch of voice), body language and posture, personal space needs, eye gaze, touch, appearance, and artifacts (uniform, gravatar, objects)
Given the number of ways these nine general non-verbal areas can be deployed, this is a multi-faceted subject. My intent here is to expose a few in the hopes that interest will encourage an exploration of others. So let’s start with some cues that a writer can place in the story which will communicate the speaker’s mood. In a later episode, we’ll get to more.
Doubt – Shifting the mouth to one side, raising eyebrows, leaning forward in a chair, and looking hard at someone or something. Example – James raises his eyebrows, and stares at the pen. “It will do all that?”
Confusion – Widened eyes, scrunched eyebrows, running fingers through the hair, and putting a hand to the chin or other place on the face. Example – James’ eyes widen, “You’ll have to go through that again.”
Anger – Furrowed eyebrows, the face reddening, clenched fist, clenched teeth, tightened lips (or a snarl), and sometimes a distant or overly focused look on the face. Example – James raises his reddened face and meets John’s eyes with his. “Get out.”
Indifference – Eye roll, looking up, looking right or left, shoulder shrug. Example – James looks to the right. “You’re the boss on this one.”
Embarrassment/insecurity – Looking down, touching the face, biting the lip, avoiding eye contact, fidgeting with fingers or objects. Example – James looks down. “I should have kept my mouth shut.”
Disagreement/disbelief – Folded arms, avoiding eye contact, tight lips, looking away, head shaking. Example – James folds his arms across his chest. “You need to say more about that.”
Agreement/interest – Smile, head nod, handshake. Leaning forward in a chair, Eye contact, Example – James smiles and nods. “Good plan.”
Relaxed /confident – Crossed legs, leaning back in a chair, hands in lap, arm over the back of a chair. Example – James leans back in the soft leather chair and looks across the desk directly into Sally’s eyes. “So how long has it been since your last drink?”
I hope you find this information interesting, and we will talk about it more in future posts.
How do you show feelings and emotions in your work? Let’s talk about them in the comments section.