Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Using Body Language in our Writing

When I was in the Military, I spent some time teaching Body Language Analysis in interviewing and interrogation. This involved reading the subjects body language as well as using the interviewers/interrogators own body language to get the optimal results.

Research suggests the relative proportion of information is passed via three elements:

Verbal - 7% (what is said);

Vocal - 38% (how it is said); and

Non verbal - 55% (facial expression, posture, gestures).

In normal conversation, the verbal element is primarily used for passing the facts or opinions that a speaker wishes to convey to the listener. The vocal element is used to support the words and may also be used to support the non-verbal element which is used primarily for showing attitudes and feelings, though it can be a substitute for verbal messages, for example where there is a language barrier.

As you can see the non-verbal component, which is more commonly referred to as body language, is the single largest component of person to person communication.Each gesture is like a single word, and a word may have different meanings. It is only when the word is used in a sentence with other words that its meaning is fully understood. Gestures come in sentences/clusters and may indicate the truth about a person's feelings or attitudes.

We are generally unaware that posture, body movements and gestures can tell one story while the voice may be telling another. Suffice to say that if you work at understanding body language the better chance you have at understanding what is really being said.

So how does one transfer this information into their writing? Firstly, using body language indicators is a great way of 'showing' the information instead of 'telling' the reader what is happening. And, when using dialogue, accompany it with some sort of physical movements. Let's face it, do you just sit or stand still when talking to someone? Do you stand closer to someone you are more comfortable with? Do you touch the arm of someone you care for just before speaking with them?

A word of warning though. Don't have a physical movement at the end of each dialogue tag. Remember, everything we write must add value to the story somehow.

If you have a particular question on body language that you would like me to blog about, just let me know.



Sara said...

Excellent reminder. I just discovered your blog. Good stuff.

blackviolet13 said...

Hi JJ, I'm from AW, and after your post today I wanted to take a look at your blog. LOVED this post, and I hope you do more on this subject :) I'm writing in 1st person POV and this is something I'm currently struggling with, so thanks!

JJ Cooper said...

After fiddling around with my settings the other day, I just discovered your comments. Thanks.

I think fist person POV is difficult to get across the physical movement when it comes to body language without it seeming like a narrator is interferring. Let's face it, unless we know about body language we aren't conscious of what we do. Therefore, how can we ultimately show it. I'd say give your MC some knowledge of body language that they learnt from a late night info commercial or something, then they are more aware and can convey it in their thoughts and actions.


Anonymous said...

Excellent ideas, JJ! Thanks very much for your answers, and I definitely do look forward to reading more as you post :)

--Elle (aka BV13)

JJ Cooper said...

You're welcome, Elle. Thanks for dropping by.


Anonymous said...

Just a question but i got this message and instead of saying to __ (like at the start of a letter) it said for ___. Does this say anything?

JJ Cooper said...

The content of the message is probably more important than the salutation. For formal correspondance, salutations often follow some form of protocol - using both 'to' or 'for' indicates the the message is somewaht informal.

It is difficult to tell the meaning of a message by one word alone. Does the person normally address messages to you with 'to'? If so, it may indicates a change or it may also indicate several other reasons - such as the person had just been sending a stack of other messages starting with 'for' and yours was next.

Bottom line - the message itself is more improtant than the salutation.



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