In last week’s post about tips outside of story structure, a lot of you remarked about body language. Personally, I think how a writer uses body language especially through out dialogue can elevate a novel from amateur to reading like a published novel.
Of course, there will be lots of: said, asked, muttered, added, smiled – words that are invisible. And we want invisible words especially during scenes where we want the reader to focus on the words being spoken.
But we also don’t want talking heads. So weaving in body language through a stretch of dialogue is crucial. You could read craft books, but I think the best place to learn is the books you have on your shelf or your library.
And when it’s not dialogue, we use body language and description to show instead of tell.
Well-crafted body language…
- Uses specific word choice
- creates a mental image
- shows the emotion by extending the movement
- conveys the undertones and subtext
- reveals character – especially secondary characters.
So I pulled some books from the stacks by my bed. In the following examples, with the dialogue taken out, these characters are well defined. Who’s the mean girl? Who’s the dork? Who’s the laid back jock?
PRINCESS FOR HIRE
- “dialogue” Celeste interrupted my daydream with a sharp finger snap in my face.
- Celeste rolled her eyes, yet the clumps of mascara managed to stay put. “dialogue”
- “dialogue” she glanced at Hayden, then pinned her eyes back on me.
- Hayden’s laugh came out in staccatos tsk-tsks.
- “dialogue” Hayden yawned. “dialogue”
- “dialogue” Hayden stuck his hands into the pockets of his Bermuda shorts. “dialogue”
THE LIAR SOCIETY
- “Dialogue” Seth said between bites of his sandwich.
- Seth leaned against the gray metal filing cabinet, lost his footing and almost fell on the floor. Once he recovered, he reached into his blazer pocket to pull out a plastic bag containing a crustless PB&J….”dialogue”
I bristle, skin contracting, quivering like the plucked bow of a violin. My wings start to vibrate with hot emotion, shooting lancing pain through the injured membrane and deep into my back. I wince, forcing myself to relax.
(And just think. The author could’ve just said something like, “My legs shook as pain shot through my back. I breathed deep and tried to relax.”
Standing, I fold my wings close to my body and run, darting wildly through the crowd of trees as the engines grow louder. (nice extension of run)
Challenge: Go through some of your favorite books and spend time picking out the body language used during dialogue. Then pick one of your own scenes, pinpoint the emotion behind the dialogue and create body language unique to each character and their emotional experience. #don’tgooverboard
You might like In defense of description