I'll be giving a workshop on body language at a conference next year and thought I'd dive into a little of it here. Just out of curiosity... how many of you "people watch"? How much do you pay attention to people and the things they say with their body, not their words?
I've found that body language actually speaks louder than words. (Actions too, obviously, but sometimes it's more subtle than that.) I thought - just for fun - I'd post an old pic from last year with actor and romance cover model Michael Foster. (We took this picture in the makeup and hair room at the show were working on.) Now what does this picture say to you? Don't cheat and look below for what I was thinking/feeling. Take a look and see if you can figure it out before you continue.
For starters, you can tell I'm nervous. I'm not looking at the
camera. And... I won't even touch the guy! Yes, my arm is in a cast, but
I could've touched HIS arm and I didn't. You can tell he has tremendous
confidence and he's used to looking at the camera. The man has no fear!
(And really, why should he with that bod! Haha!) He's got his arms around me like I'm a model from one of his cover shoots! I'm embarrassed. You can tell that by my red face and goofy grin. So... did you guess all that?
As writers, we know it's important to cover everything because we want to set a scene. What's the temperature? Are we inside or outside? What's the ambiance? What's happening? Is it loud or quiet? Are other people around? There are a TON of details to get across and limited time to get that info out. Part of all that detail is getting across our character's feelings.
But what if you're in one character's head and need to get across another character's feelings. We show it through body language, right? One of my favorite things is being in someone's point of view (POV) and showing how certain things make them feel by what they do with their body. That way, when I'm in someone else's POV and show that first character using a specific body language, the reader knows exactly what they are feeling...or hiding.
I try to give all my characters little quirks or certain mannerisms specific to them. It's one of the things that helps define them and makes them stand out for the reader.
The other important part of giving characters specific traits is to make sure you use the strongest words possible when moving them around. A quick example... anytime I read a sentence where "someone 'went' to the door..." (or 'went' anywhere for that matter), it makes me stop and think about what would've been a stronger word choice. Sure, the word 'went' works and sometimes maybe it's the strongest choice, but wouldn't you rather see what the character is made of or what they are feeling in that specific moment of opening the door? Maybe she 'glided' to the door. Or he 'stomped' to the door. There are dozens of verbs that can be used to describe what a person might be feeling just by showing how they crossed a room.
Or maybe you've given your character a 'tell.' My heroine, Ellie, in Danger Zone had a huge secret and every time she lied about it (or anything), she spun the ring on her finger. So every time I was in someone else's POV and that character - and the reader - watched Ellie spin her ring, the reader knew she was lying.
The best part of writing body language traits is that we have so much to choose from. Facial expressions, posture, muscle tension, nervous ticks. Just start at the top and work your way down and figure out how many different body language 'tells' or 'quirks' you can come up with.
So... any particular traits that you've noticed about people over the years? Or maybe YOU have a specific trait that's specific to you... Want to share?