Saturday, 29 August 2015

How relevant is Body Language in writing? by Jo Johnson-Smith

Now we all know how to read the written word, hell you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't, but the thing is this, how do you describe the way a person moves or interacts with another?

How far do you go to describe an enemy of someone when they can't interact with them? Say your character sees their enemy walk into a room, do they feel nothing and stay still, or do they tense up, shift position to confront them? Emotions aren't just spoken through dialogue, they are spoken through the body of our characters.

Have a look at decent actors, even silent movie actors, they get over the emotions of the scene without speaking, without the use of words and we should embrace this theory when we write.

Description of emotional states is more than words, it's physical, when someone is really upset and hurt they curl inward, pull themselves small, hide their head, stare into nothing while silently crying.

Remembering how to move and feel is important when we write, how our characters feel at a particular time is just as important as what they say. We all recognise good writing and we can recognise when something is wrong with a piece of writing that feels 'dead' or missing something.

Nuances of body language we pick up all the time, the feeling of unease that builds as someone sits at a table, unblinking, staring ahead at nothing, the stillness of their body and yet the brooding sense of a mind out of control, just on the edge of madness.

Just in those few words we have a scene of a man at the end of his rope, he's said nothing, done nothing but we can 'feel' his emotion through the stillness of his form but the staring he does shows us what he's thinking.

All of us pick up on nuances of characters, the way someone walks, they way they move across a space, what they say and how they say it. All of it is important, we have a inbuilt ability to 'read' people, it's what makes us human and we use it unconsciously but as writers we need to pull this ability into our writing and to create fully rounded characters and situations.

Especially in fiction, fantasy and science fiction where the believable is stretched we need to be assured that we know where the characters we have are going and what they are feeling. We need to know what they would do when faced with enemies, friends, lovers, aliens or dragons, we need to inhabit them fully to bring them to life as real people.

Let's have an example

Version one
Hey let's get going eh? We've only got ten minutes.....chop chop!”

Version two
Looking at his watch for the fifth time, blowing out his cheeks as his kids almost ran through him, “Hey let's get going eh?” Hunching his shoulders as he took the kids bags in hand, seeing his eldest half dressed at the top of the stairs hair dripping wet. Sighing deeply and growling the last few words out of his stressed body, gripping the handles tighter as she flounced back into her room. “We've got ten minutes......” the sound of the hair drier went into high gear. “Chop chop!”

There we go, the same person described just with dialogue and the second with emotion and it describes their personality better. A rushed father with a deadline who isn't going to make it, a man who crushes his anger down instead of shouting at his girls. He can see his day becoming undone but he just lets it go when he hears his eldest daughters attempt at hurrying.

We get a better view of someone when we round them out, we give them a fullness that we pick up on and feel as we read them. It makes them more real, more human and if we're writing aliens we can use that difference to make their difference more visible to the reader. That they don't do the usual human thing, that they are truly alien t the rest of us, in the world of robotics it's the perfection that stands them out from the messy humans. But if you want to blur the lines here, have a messy robot and play with the constructs to false foot your readers.

Body language is something we should all try to remember, that the body's position is important in how we describe them as a character. How they stand and sit, what they wear and why, how they speak and when they speak and to whom. It's all important to the character and the story we're writing, body language is natural let's try to make it natural in our writing too.

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