The Significance of Body Language

Body language is one thing many writers take for granted. It’s also the reason that many people hate reading in first person.

First person authors often write with historical or psychological information. Historical: Where did we come from? Who did this before? What happened yesterday? Psychological: Why I’m feeling this way. How my heart beats. What my tears feel like.

Third person authors also miss out on great opportunities to capitalize on body language, but they write about it more often. Body language includes: Lack of eye contact. Sitting on the far seat and folding arms. Leaning away from a detestable character.

Though reading about internal dialogue for a character can be great, writers have to remember that humans are programmed to understand body language. Whether you know you’re paying attention or not, you understand it.

For example

Let’s say a character shifts in their seat uncomfortably. They fold their arms and won’t supply eye contact to the question questioning them. Suddenly, beads of sweat form on their head and every time they speak, they’re stuttering or stammering. Is the person telling the truth?

No. They’re nervous and feeling guilty about something.

Another example

A very nerdy and determined character approaches a woman at the bar. He gently rests his hand on hers, but she snatches it away. She attempts to return speaking to her friend, but this man places his face an inch away from her ear and blares, “Hey sexy!” over the music. She damn near falls out of her seat trying to get closer to her friend and the man is still wearing a smile.

You can tell the guy is an ignorant nerd that can’t take a hint. You obviously know the woman wants nothing to do with him.

However, most writers won’t explain a situation like that. They’ll say,

The nerd had one too many drinks, which is really just one drink because his tolerance is low. He sees the woman of his dreams sitting at the bar. He won’t let her get away, not tonight.

He gulps down a horse pill of saliva and stomps over to her. He waits for her to respond, but she only glances over her shoulder and ignores him. The nerd takes a deep breath and builds the courage to rest his hand on hers, but she quickly withdraws it.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, but he’s determined. As the woman turns back to speak with her friend, the nerd whispers in her ear, “Hey sexy!”

The woman grimaces, stands up, and walks away, telling her friend, “He’s such a creeper.”

Awesome. The writing isn’t bad, but it’s telling me and not letting me use my own damn brain. Sure, writers need to spell things out sometimes, but if you’re a great writer that has a lot of life experience, you could write in a way that helps your readers understand without a caption telling them everything you want them to know.

Challenge yourself. Use body language.

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