Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movement is the Message - Part II Body Languarge for Your Characters

Last Wednesday I promised that we'd spend time on what some body movements mean for your characters.

Did you know while you speak your head moves a number of times?

It's true. In language, pitch change is a signal that you're finished. Think about how you ask a question such as: Are you finished? Or would you like more? Most often your voice goes higher with the last word of a question, which signals who you're talking with that it's their turn to answer. Along with the voice raising, the head usually raises as well. Try adding that movement to a tag at the end of dialogue.

What about hand gestures?

Many people can't seem to talk without moving their hands, which is a wonderful character trait. Did you know that hands tend to also move up with the pitch of voice when a question is asked? So gestures of the hands that you thought meant nothing, actually do have meaning.

And what about eyelids?

Did you know that eyes become wider at the end of a question? Yep. Just watch next time someone asks you a question. It may happen with the blink of an eye, but most often it's true.

Now just as the voice, head, hands and eyelids raise at the end of a question, they also lower at the end of a statement. Cool, huh?

But when a speaker continues to keep talking the head, voice, eyes, and hands are usually unchanged.

This is good to know as you give traits to the characters in your novel. Also keep in mind that your characters movements are also tied to their emotions.If you have an unfeeling character keep his voice monotone, his head, hands, and eyelids constant.

If your character is bubbly have them talk with their hands, head, and eyes.

Of course, there is a lot more about body movement I haven't covered, but I hope I've given you something to think about as you give your characters more depth.

What is a gesture you tend to give your characters? What was the most quirky trait you've given a character you loved?



  1. Wow, this is cool. Love it. I have a character who always spins her hands in front of her body when she get agitated or exciting.

  2. Oh, great post! I did an obsessive search on the web last year regarding body language and visceral reaction. I didn't know that the eyes widen at the end of a question. Wow!

    A few things that I'm always having my MCs do is arch a brow (yes, so cliche, but it's real life, right?), shrug, slouch, shuffle feet, twist a strand of hair, giving furtive glances...

    Btw, I really love your comment signature! Thank you for dropping by my blog and leaving some comment kisses! :)


    Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
    YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!

  3. This is an awesome post, Kathi. I spent a lot of effort paying attention to body movement in my novels. Maybe that's partly because I have a physical education degree. Movement is a key aspect of sports and physical activity.

  4. I am always fighting the urge to have my characters nod their heads. He nodded. She nodded. He nodded in agreement. She nodded as she chewed. Sometimes I feel like they are just a bunch of bobble heads!

  5. My character takes a piece of her hair and twists it around her ear when she is nervous:))

  6. Thanks, Stina!
    I know what you mean about putting movement in novels. I like to use action tags near dialogue because you can do away with "said" and also characterize through action. You're right, movement is key. :)

  7. Leslie,
    What a great trait, spinning hands. I've had characters wring their hands, which is cliche. Spinning sounds much better. Wringing hands is a sign of worry. I wonder if spinning hands means the same, or is it a sign of confidence? Now I'm really intrigued about your character.

  8. Elizabeth:
    I'm quite fond of the raising eyebrow action myself. I'm always looking for different ways to word action and if an author can characterize at the same time, that's golden.

    And you're signature is fabulous. Again, I'm always learning from you. :) xox

  9. Christina,
    I'm guilty of the nodding heads as well. In fact, I'd better weed a few out of my current wip before I send it in. Thanks for the reminder. :)

  10. Terri:
    I recently watched the Count of Monti Cristo and they gave him the trait of hair twirling, which is so cool.

    Twisting a lock of hair around the ear is very unique. What a wonderful trait. You rock!

  11. My newest character has big hips...they bump into things a lot.

  12. Anita,
    Hip action . . . I'll have to look up what that would mean in body language. Very curious indeed. :)



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