I recently had a conversation with someone who said using body language to express the emotions of a character was lost on them. Really? Wow! “So,” I said, “if I made a fist and extended my arm in the direction of your face you would not know what was coming or how I was feeling?” The response was, “Well, you might be mad and going to hit me.” Like, hello! Body language.
What brought the discussion on was I’d put a book down in frustration because the author had the characters do something and then interpreted that action. For example - she slammed the door then said, she was angry. In the context of the rest of the paragraph I understood she was angry when she slammed the door. Like my friend, when you see a fist coming your direction you figure you are going to be hit. The owner of said fist doesn’t need to accompany the action with a verbal warning. Same thing when you write. There is an instinctual understanding of body language. I call it lizard brain instinct.
As mystery and suspense authors how do you show a character is the bad guy without coming out and saying it? I use inappropriate eye contact, as in glaring and holding contact to long, a dismissive glance, no eye contact at all, a predatory up and down look that makes you feel like you are on the menu. My bad people laugh at the suffering of others and are almost always space invaders. That is, people who constantly stand to close forcing others to back up. I also use inappropriate touching. I mean if a woman just met a man five minutes ago and out of the blue, he slips an arm around her waist and pulls them together. For me that’s a strong ewww factor. Does it hit you wrong also, or do you need to be told why it’s inappropriate?
What do you get from these situations?
1. A character in an interview is jiggling his leg looking side to side.
2. A couple sitting in the doctor’s office leaning toward one another. Leaning away.
3. A couple at a table in Starbucks, she is leaning over the table in his direction arm outstretched, palm up. He is leaning back arms crossed.
4. Another couple leaning to each other, hands resting on the table, finger tips barely touching.
5. A man in a suit standing legs spread, hands on his hips pushing his suit jack back elbows sticking out. Or, he is leaning back in a chair, an ankle resting on the opposite knee his hand clasped behind his head.
6. What is a woman telling her companion when she laughs and tips her head back exposing her throat?
7. A man and woman are standing together. She is leaning into him head resting on his shoulder and a hand in the middle of his chest. He has one arm around her, the other in a pants pocket and a big grin on his face.
8. A woman walking away from a man she knows is checking out her aft deck, turns and looks at him over her shoulder and licks her lips.
What I see.
1. The character is nervous.
2. The couple are happy and getting alone. Leaning away -they aren’t very happy with each other.
3. She is pleading about something and he really doesn’t want to hear it.
4. A new relationship.
5. Both of these tell me the man is in control and he is letting everyone know it with his displays.
6. Exposing the vulnerable throat indicates she trusts him and is ready to move to the next level of the relationship.
7. I feel like she is declaring ownership. He is telling every man in the room- yeaph she’s mine, eat your heart out.
8. No stamp needed for that invitation.
So, tell me what you see in these situations. Do you like subtle body language in the books you read? Do you use it in your writing?