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January 25, 2016

Body Language - Character ER



A character’s dialogue can add humor and suspense (if delivered by an antagonist). Two characters can exchange witty banter, argue, or whisper sweet nothings. Dialogue pushes a story forward. You can’t have a book without it.

A character’s emotion influences the story, fuels scenes, and builds connections with readers. Without emotions, we would have dull stories and robotic characters. We don’t want that!

A character’s body language is also important because it compliments dialogue and reveals emotions. Whenever our characters say or do something, whenever they feel a certain way, we should add physical cues to drive home those feelings and actions. 



Below are some emotions with physical reactions.

Anger – clenching of jaw and fists, a puffing up of the chest and squaring of shoulders, spine rod-straight, arms crossed, flaring of nostrils, seething, pacing, glaring, heart pounding, blood roaring, heat rising up neck and face

Curiosity/Suspicion – head tilting, pursing of lips, scratching head or temple, tapping fingers, quirking a brow, squinting eyes

Fear – cowering, avoiding eye contact, slumped shoulders, body shaking, sweaty hands, dry mouth, fast breathing, heart racing

Grief – sobbing, whole body shaking, quivering lips, tearing eyes, heavy heart, shuffling footsteps, low shoulders

Love/flirting – heart fluttering, breath catching, glowing, blushing, laughing, winking, lip biting, butterflies in the stomach




QUESTION: Do you forget to add body language and other physical reactions?


54 comments:

betty said...

That would be important to add body language in character development. Mskes them more life like I think.

Betty

nashvillecats2 said...

I reconise "The Fear" body lanuage, living alone and not seeing many people certainhly brings fear into life. I know how to covercome it but purring it into practice is another thing.
Great post and most interesting.
Yvonne.

sage said...

Good reminder on using body language...

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Yes, body language tells so much about a character's emotions. It adds to their words, gives a clearer image of the person. Great advice, Chrys. Thanks for the reminder.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks for the list! Body language is important. And it needs to be more than nodding.

Lidy said...

Yes body language tells a lot. You don't have to tell the reader what your character is feeling because the character is showing it with their body language. I love using The Emotions Thesaurus because it's body language 101 helps to add more depth to your character(s).

Chrys Fey said...

More life like is the goal. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Fear comes into life in many qays. It's probably the most common felling and body language we experience.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks.

Chrys Fey said...

I always have to go back through my writing to add more body language.

Chrys Fey said...

Exactly. At first my chatacters nod a lot. lol

Chrys Fey said...

Show don't tell. ;) I need to check out The emotion Thesaurus.

Pat Hatt said...

Body language adds a whole lot indeed, sometimes I can be skimpy on it I think.

Chrys Fey said...

I can be skimpy with the first draft. While I revise, I look for ways to add more.

Hart Johnson said...

Body language is one I have to be careful because it is really easy to over use some... teens and eye rolling... nodding... It is a good place though, to give a character a tic. A single character who does something (especially if it is a tell--a child who looks at his feet when he lies... stuff like that)

diedre Knight said...

Great tips! Essential, I think, if you want the reader to know your character as well as you do. What would a room full of test-takers be without at least one who slumps? ;-)

sherry fundin said...

Great tips!

sherry @ fundinmental

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Body language is something I try to use as much as I can. Instead of saying someone felt angry, I try to show it with their body language.

Lisa Thomson said...

This is a great tip sheet for adding that extra dimension to emotions of our characters. Thanks, Chrys! Interestingly, I haven't written very many angry characters. Maybe I should channel some anger into a character or two---LOL :)

Chrys Fey said...

Nodding is one that I overuse. Using body language as a personal tic is perfect.

Chrys Fey said...

Show don't tell. That's why it's important. I still put in those telling sentences but beta readers can help me spot them. :)

Chrys Fey said...

I've written about a lot of angry characters. I guess I can be an angry person. LOL

Chrys Fey said...

I love that! There's always one person/student who slumps during a test.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks!

Sheena-kay Graham said...

These are some great tips and important things to consider in novel writing. But I think I might avoid 'butterflies in the stomach' because I have seen quite a few reviewers complain about the overuse of this body language in relation to feelings of love and excitement. One even joked that the character needed to go see a doctor with the amount of animals living in her chest.

Jeffrey Scott said...

I think I do pretty good at adding body language. But it's also easy to forget at times. As a writer, we know how our character is feeling/thinking. I can see how disastrous it would be if we forget to illustrate that. I will be paying special attention as I write my next chapter. Thanks for sharing.

Kelly Hashway said...

I may overdo this a bit. ;) At least my editors tell me I do.

Julie Flanders said...

You always have such helpful features. Love this ER and looking forward to what you have planned for the rest of the year.
Very cool that you're starting up an IWSG newsletter!

Chrys Fey said...

That's very true. It's important to not use cliches or bizarre descriptions.

Chrys Fey said...

Exactly. We see and know our characters but sometimes that doesn't translate with out words.

Chrys Fey said...

Overdo body language? That's new. :P

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Julia! I'm glad you like this new little feature. I had fun thinking of the posts for this one. :)

Carrie-Anne said...

It's only been fairly recently I've added much of any realistic or frequent body language, instead of either glossing over something or using a line like "[Name] was very angry." As an Aspie, depicting emotions just doesn't come naturally for me, since it's not in my brain wiring to think about and experience emotions the same way a neurotypical would. I may never be perfect at it, since I can't change the way my brain has been wired since creation, but at least I can make the effort to improve and get close to the ability of a neurotypical writer.

Birgit said...

Considering we say more non verbally than we do verbally, I think it is very important to add this...unless you are Spock, or my boss

Christine Rains said...

Excellent post! I'm big on using body language. Sometimes so big I forget to even use a little of dialogue tags! =P

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I do often forget to add body language and physical descriptions in my first drafts, which often seem like there are two people talking an empty room. I always have to go back and "fill in the blanks," so to speak.

Chrys Fey said...

A lot of Writer's find it hard to add emotion or physical descriptions because they don't feel comfortable with emotions or don't like to show them. I'm such a writer. But I've worked on adding these things to my writing.

Chrys Fey said...

LOL. Spock is one who won't have physical reactions.

Chrys Fey said...

You swapped one for the other. lol I used to have both problems. :p

Chrys Fey said...

I have to fill in the blanks too. :)

Liz A. said...

I try to add body language to help move a scene forward. But I have my problems with this.

Anonymous said...

My biggest problem is being diversity with body language. Sometimes I get into ruts and use the same stuff over and over.

Mary Kirkland said...

Those seem like great tips.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Chrys ... it's so easy to use body language, without realising what effect it has on the people around you - something I must pay attention to and learn from

Cheers Hilary

emaginette said...

I've started assigning body language/emotional reactions to each character. It makes them more unique and helps me keep it all straight. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Chrys Fey said...

That happens. It's not until he edit when we notice that and can fix it.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks!

Chrys Fey said...

You're right. We're never conscious of our body language.

Chrys Fey said...

That's a great idea!

Chrys Fey said...

Body language can help a lot with scenes. :)

Yolanda Renée said...

I rely on the Emotion Thesaurus, it's gold. Body language and reactions during a conversation are so important. Part of the show don't tell. When writing a first draft the tell part is always what I have to edit out! LOL Talk about work. Someday I hope to write that way naturally! Do you think it's possible? :)

Chrys Fey said...

I need this thesaurus! I'm not sure if it's possible...I haven't gotten there yet. lol

Cynthia said...

Those are some nice physical reactions you listed. I find that many people mask their fear by putting up a false front of being brave, like they might puff up their chest more or speak in a louder voice. So sometimes physical features might be exaggerated to compensate for what's really going on internally.

Chrys Fey said...

That's true. But with a characters whose head we're in we can't do a false front. We have to share that fear...and then they can put up a false front to the other characters. ;)