Saturday, November 27, 2010


How characters respond to each other goes far beyond what’s said. Words are easily spoken, but the truth is not necessarily there. People often say what they think others want to hear. This happens in real life and works well in fiction. People observe what’s being said by watching the person’s facial expression and body language.

Obviously, authors need to be aware of these important means of non-verbal communication when creating characters and stories. Five well-known non-verbal behaviors are important to consider: silence, posture and gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and space, meaning closeness or distance from the other character. Each one speaks as loudly as your character’s words. This is important when creating a romance, because during that sensitive time, the hero and heroine will study each other, fearing making a mistake in the relationship.

It’s strange that silence can cause a problem, but it does. If a hero asks the heroine a question, he is looking for an answer. If he receives a blank stare, the non-verbal message has said something, such as: I don’t know, I don’t want to talk about it, or it’s none of your business. It could be those responses or many others. This leaves the hero hanging as he wonders what she could mean. It causes tension. This works well if you’re trying to create tension between the two people. If the hero says I love you to the heroine and her response is silence, I don’t have to tell you how that would come across. Again it creates tension. Should he probe for an answer or back away? If a character’s boss asks him why he did or didn’t do something and his response is silence, the boss could easily become perturb. He expects an answer. Silence can mean the character doesn’t know, or it could mean he is guilty, angry, belligerent, or uncooperative. When writing, if you’re not trying to create tension, give an answer. If you’re using the technique for tension, good for you.

Gestures and posture
Anger is often shown by quickness and abruptness body responses. If your heroine slams a door or drawer or if the hero pounds his fist against a table, readers learn as much as they might from hearing words, and the action is far more dramatic. The heroine flailing her hands in the air or making a fist gives a negative response. A gentle pat or brush of a the hero’s hand against the heroine’s arm gives the opposite response. It’s one of understanding and concern. Give careful thought when you create your characters’ gestures to make sure they are conveying the right message to the reader, and that they fit the character’s personality. Try to be original, show the heroine tossing the hero’s note into the wastebasket. Without saying any words, the reader knows what she’s thinking and that she’s angry. It fits into the storyline and doesn’t distract yet adds a deeper emotion even without words.

Along with gestures, your characters posture shows her attitude and mood. The heroine walking with her chin touching her chest will cause other characters and readers to think she is uneasy, upset, depressed, or perhaps lacking self-esteem. The heroine who walks tall with her back straight and head held high shows confidence. Yet too high and too straight can appear forceful or even confrontational. Allow your characters’ posture to illustrate his or her mood or attitude with a visual description.

Facial Expressions
The most obvious method to convey meaning to words is through facial expressions, but remember that sometimes people make faces without realizing it. These expressions tell the truth to those viewing another persons’s face even though they can’t see the expression themselves. An eye-blink or a tightened jaw can send a message of surprise or upset. Winces, narrowed eyes and tightened lips are less common than a furrowed brow or a smile. Use the broad spectrum of your characters’ faces to add deeper meaning to the emotional palette of your story.

Characters sometimes try to hide their true feelings. and they force a superficial expression. Yet beneath that expression, the truth can often be seen. The heroine for examples says one thing but means something else. The words and expressions don’t match—she says yes with her words, but her face and body say no. This sends a mixed message to other characters thereby adding a new element to the story and creating tension. Use this technique to create unanswered questions for the reader—What is bothering her?— or to deepen conflict.

Eye Contact
A character’s eyes show emotion just as they do in real life. For example, when the hero looks in the eyes of the heroine, he can see the emotion of love. Eyes reflect what the person is like on the inside. A person’s eyes can become bloodshot in anger. Blood vessel break and pupils dilate. Even the blink, mentioned earlier, is telling. Eyes are indicators of self-confidence. If the heroine looks at the hero with direct eye contact, she appear confident and assured; if she avoids looking into his eyes, she will seem unsure or disinterested, and even worse, she might appear guilty. Use reference of eye contact in key scenes where the truth must be learned by a character. In a police procedural, the accused might deny the crime, but his eyes give clues that somehow he is involved. In romance, a young woman may say no to a marriage proposal, but her eyes say yes, leaving the hero wanting to know the reason for her refusal. This adds interest and foreshadowing of what’s to come.

The closeness or distance of one character from another makes an impact in fiction. Notice the trait in yourself. When you are interested in a conversation or when you agree with what someone says, you lean forward. You show your approval of what they say by your physical nearness. If someone is having a problem, you communicate sympathy by putting your arm around the person or placing your hand on your friend’s shoulder. You do not need to say words; your meaning is clear. Use space in your fiction to show the ease or tension in the relationship. If the heroine is eager for a romantic relationship, she will move toward the hero. If she doesn’t want to encourage him, she will pull back or move away. This forms a type of barricade between her and the hero. She is sending a message that she doesn’t care about him, she doesn’t agree, or perhaps she’s afraid of the relationship. Arms crossed in front of the hero’s chest, for example, is similar barricade that sends a negative message.

On the other hand, fear of being rejected in a romance or of being involved in a suspense can cause a character to step back or avoid another character in order not to be hurt or to be notice. This is done out of fear of being hurt or suspected. When using this technique, write the action so it is clear to the reader but not necessarily to the character. You can do this by using introspection of the character who is using the body action either in the scene or later in the sequel.

By being aware of non-verbal communication as you write your novels, you can use it to add interest to your work and to alert your reader and/or other characters in the book of the unspoken message. Remember that more than half of what you say is seen — not heard. So give the same percentage to your characters and let them do a lot of talking without words.

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