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Language to Create Believable Characters
by Lisa Hood
Have you ever
had a "Gut" feeling about someone? You
meet someone and a little voice says: "I like
him" or "I don't trust her". Have you ever
wondered why you formed that immediate opinion?
Body language plays a big role in intuition as it gives
us messages about the other person that we can interpret
at an intuitive level. We are always communicating
verbally and nonverbally.
To make a good impression, it is important to understand
that you are always communicating through body language,
whether it is intentional or not. Studies done in
the field indicate that:
. 55% of the communication consists of body language,
. 38% is expressed through tone of voice (paralanguage)
. 7% is communicated through words. (1)
As a writer, you can use the body language of your
character to convey a great deal of information.
There are four types of body language to be aware of:
facial expression, including eye contact, gestures,
posture and space relationship.
1. Facial Expressions including eye contact -
"Darwin believed that facial expressions of emotion
are similar among humans, regardless of culture."
However, researchers now believe "our non verbal
language is partly instinctive, partly taught and partly
imitative." (1) There are some universal
facial expressions; a smile, a frown, a scowl, however,
there are many more nonverbal messages that are learned
and may be unique to specific cultures.
Eye contact is direct and powerful. The eyes are
always talking. A poet and writer of 19th-century
France wrote, `Eyes are so transparent, that
through them, one sees the soul.' Nothing builds
trust and rapport as effectively as eye contact. (2) The
use of eye contact varies significantly from culture to
culture. In some regions, direct eye contact may be
considered insulting or challenging. In the United
States, direct eye contact is often considered a sign of
trustworthiness. So, if your character is American,
regular, attentive eye contact would convey honesty,
straight forwardness and/or approachability. However, a
hard, unblinking stare will send a much different message.
can be used purposefully to emphasis meaning. Fidgeting
shows boredom and restlessness. Pressing fingers together
to form a steeple shows interests, assertiveness and
determination. Touching the nose or rubbing eyes
indicates discomfort, or it may even be a signal that
your character is not being completely honest. A hand to
the back of the neck may indicate withdrawal from a
Posture - The
way people hold themselves gives important information.
Body posture can be closed or open. Interested people
always pay attention and lean forward. Leaning
backwards demonstrates aloofness or rejection. A
firm handshake will give the impression of assertiveness
or honesty, too firm can seem arrogant or challenging.
Folding arms across your chest or body is protective and
will give the impression of a character who's closed,
guarded and defensive. People with arms folded, legs
crossed and bodies turned away are signaling that they
are rejecting messages. People showing open hands, both
feet planted on the ground are accepting. A head
held straight up signals a neutral attitude. A head
tilted to the side indicates interest. A head down is
negative and judgmental.
Space - Dr.
Edward T Hall, a professor of anthropology at
Northwestern University, coined the phrase "Proxemics"
to describe his theories about zones and territory and
how we use them. There are four distinct zones in which
most people operate, including: intimate distance,
personal distance, social distance and public distance.
The cultural influence on spatial relationships is
significant. "How we guard our zones and how
we aggress to other zones is an integral part of how we
relate to other people." (1)
"The orientation of speakers and listeners: face-to-face,
side to side, or back-to-back, can send powerful non-verbal
messages. In a group situation, when the leader
faces the group and turns toward the one who is speaking,
this conveys strong attention. When two people are
communicating, competitors are more likely to sit facing
each other while collaborators are more likely to sit
side-by-side. If one stands while the other is
sitting, the standing person may be sending dominance
signals, which can stifle free exchange of ideas." (2)
You now understand different types of body language and
you may be able to incorporate body language into your
writing to make your characters come alive on the page.
(1) Dick Mooney, Often, actions really do speak louder
words. Knoxville, TN: ACA Communicator, 2002
(2) Debbie O'Halloran, How to use Body Language in an
The Irish Jobs Column, 2002
Lisa Hood is the author of "Shades of Betrayal"
and "Shades of Revenge". She has been
writing for over 10 years and is presently working on her
third suspense novel, "Shades of Jealousy." She
is also the Talent Liaison @ BOOKJOBBER.com. http://www.bookjobber.com
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