Psychology and body language have always interested me as a kid. I read up books and got as much information as I could on body language and psychology only because I loved it and was extremely curious about it. I had no idea back then how much that would go on to help me a s a writer. As a writer, the most important ingredient to your story is your characters. If your characters are well-rounded and full-fledged in your story, both your story and your characters come to life. You can do that with letting your character’s personality show through their posture, their habits, their simple actions, their way of doing something, their way of reacting, etc. Including a tinge of body language to your character’s reactions gives a little more added flavour to your story and fleshes out your character and story. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
(This post is a collaboration between Writerspuram and a guest blogger.)
- Go easy on the psychological jargon.
Sometimes writers end up doing too much research (and oftentimes get obsessed with knowing) complex body language and/or psychology. They tend to do this to help portray their characters better. Or to make the scene more visual. Or perhaps they’re simply following a rulebook.
You, however, don’t have to go into the depths of proper psychology for this. When watching a movie, you may notice the slightest movement of the characters on screen. Or might not even notice the slight movements that convey the emotions on screen to you. This what we do with our writing. Make a simple mention of your character’s impulsive movements in the scene that you’re writing. For example, imagine an argument breaks out between ‘him’ and ‘her’, where she’s demanding an explanation. And you write
“He picked up the empty glass and turned away.”
It shows that he is avoiding the conversation, trying to block her out.
- Remember to always be subtle.
Don’t focus on over emphasizing the body language and psychology of your character. Some writers tend to make the mistake of forcing their character’s gestures on their readers. Make a subtle mention. If your reader’s take note, then well and good. And if they don’t take note, it’s still well and good. The only reason you mention these simple gestures is to make the scene more visual. To place your readers in your character’s ’here and now’.
This is what I mean by forcing your character’s body language on your readers.
“Julio looks down at his feet. He does not want to look her in the eyes. He clears his throat. He crosses his arms over his chest. He sits up straight.”
Like no. Try not to overdo it all at once. It’ll distract your readers and disrupt the pace of their reading. If it’s a high-tension scene then you’ll also have to throw in the other elements of that scene (a.k.a. whatever it is that is making him nervous and uncomfortable).
- Include it as casually as you can, as part of the sentence.
Now, imagine someone’s finally telling you a story (or a secret) that you’ve waiting for a long time to hear. Right in the middle of the story, at the most interesting part, the narrator suddenly stops. And savours the drink in front of them. What would you feel? How would you react?
In ‘Martha’ (Savoury Tales) my main character feels just that – impatient and anxious to know the rest of the story. And this is how I put it forth:
“The old woman chuckled and picked up her cup. She took her own sweet time with the drink while I tapped my feet anxiously.”
Tapping feet is a sign of restlessness and impatience. (READ: What does it mean if someone taps their feet?)
- Include an emotion to better explain your character’s current state of mind.
Certain gestures and movements cater to a range of different emotions. So sometimes when you miss out on mentioning the emotion with the gesture a miscommunication occurs. Let us go back to the previous example. If I had simply written
“She took her own sweet time with the drink while I tapped my feet.”
Then the reader is likely to think that she is ‘tapping [her] feet to music’. It is not written there and still becomes a part of the reader’s imagination. They imagine that the character is tapping her feet to the music. Which in turn falsely portrays her as chill and relaxed in that moment. And the reader gets disconnected as the scene and the emotion do not gel.
To bridge the gap of miscommunication, sometimes you need to explain the ‘how’. Tapping her feet how? Anxiously? In tune to the music? Or in annoyance? State the emotion.
“She took her own sweet time with the drink while I tapped my feet anxiously.”
- Including a reason for your character’s gesture
You can use this when you’re setting the story; when your readers don’t know anything much about the character, their situation or their emotion. It is like seasoning. For example,
“Mahi checked the clock again, frustrated. ‘Where is the bloody train?’ she wondered, her excitement giving way to anger. She was finally going home to see her parents and the train was 1 hour late.”
Body language is indeed one of the most important aspects of building up a character. The main principle of any sort of write-up is “Show, don’t tell”. Body language provides a vivid imagery to create a lively, realistic and long-lasting visual impact in the subconscious minds of readers. The description of body languages, vocal qualities, facial expressions and movements of the characters in any piece of writing help to create a strong bridge of understanding between the writer and the reader. Moreover, the reader can relate himself more profoundly with the plot of the story or the context of a poem if body languages are unfolded in detail. The characters and the story, in an overall sense, come to life.
Besides, body languages generate sensations among readers and often stir their emotions, mood swings, adrenaline and conscience, thereby enabling to bring about a change in mentality at times in certain people. The reason is the gestures and postures of a character when depicted through body languages, provoke the reader to develop a considerable, or in some cases, a minimum perception of a character. Thus, when the reader gets a bad or negative impression of a character, he may expect a certain resolution to come up in the story finally. Therefore, he may develop a change in his own concept of any subject such as love, friendship, death, hardships, divorce, eroticism, largely by going through the features of a character portrayed mostly by his body language.
The body language of a character which helps to build a positive impression on a reader, may persuade him indirectly to clear his misconception regarding the particular gesture. It thus, also modifies a reader’s bent of mind and perspectives of viewing things which narratives consisting “He said” or “She told” type of languages fails to do often. Body languages, therefore, are sometimes effective in changing a person’s way of thinking or reflecting much more than mere flat narrations, mainly because the picturesque vision they render, may psychologically affect and strike a reader deep in his heart and hence, may strengthen his realization as well as maturity way more than a meagre account does.
You don’t have to read up on or do heavy research on psychology. Take note of people’s reactions in everyday situations. Think about what you yourself would do in the situation that you’re writing about. Would you fiddle with a pen? Or would you sit back and look the other person in the eye? Add that to your character’s reflexes.
Were these tips easy to follow? Leave behind a comment to let us know.
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About our guest blogger:
Diotima Bose is a student of MSc Chemistry of Chandigarh University. She is a student of classical music and is a disciple of Padmabhushan Pandit Ajoy Chakraboty. She loves Literature and writing is her passion and she loves to explore and unravel herself, different emotions, people, various subjects and the world as a whole through her write-ups. She has recently co-authored in two anthologies. One of her poems has been selected as World Record Attempt and also for being published in a Poetry Anthology. She is an aspiring writer of even some social media platforms.