Monday, April 8, 2013

What are your characters' gestures saying about them?

"The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which have become permanent." ~Marcel Proust

In order to create multidimensional, life-like characters, we as writers need to not only understand the people who populate our pages but also know how to portray their emotions. We've all heard about the show don't tell rule. It's vitally important to show how a character is feeling without coming right out and saying Bob was sad. One way to do this is by using gestures, such as slouched shoulders, frowning mouths or teary eyes.

Two amazing resources

The Bookshelf Muse - This site is a true gem. They provide an emotion thesaurus, a physical attribute thesaurus, a character trait thesaurus and more.

Body Language Expert - Tons of useful information about gestures and what they indicate. 

Gestures around the world


Pay attention to cultural influences when creating your characters.  Gestures have different meanings in different places. For example, in Middle Eastern countries it's not uncommon for men to hold hands as a show of great friendship. In Nigeria, a thumbs up is seen as an obscene gesture. Be sure to do your research when your characters live in unfamiliar places or are visiting them. There could also be opportunities for conflict here.

The larger gestures

Body language can be very telling, but don't forget to use larger gestures as well. Is your character the type who always brings flowers to dinner or the type who always expects someone else to pay for the meal? Do they offer to help others or expect others to help them? thoughtful gestures - or selfish ones - go a long way to let readers know who your characters are.

Using gestures for structure

Dialogue tags get old fast. It's often best to use action or body language to show readers who's speaking rather than telling them. That's were the resources above come in handy. It's important to use an assortment of gestures so our writing is realistic and vivid. Sure, there might be some characters who have habits, like biting their nails, that they repeatedly do throughout a story, but in general, variety is best.

Tomorrow's post - Adding humor to your writing

25 comments:

  1. Hi Heidi, I have bookmarked this post and your blog. I couldn't agree more with your thoughts on dialogue tags and I will certainly be having a look at the two books you recommended :)

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  2. There tend to be a few gestures that get repeated a lot. Finding original but recognisable non-verbal ways to get emotions across can be quite hard.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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    1. I agree totally. I'm constantly trying to come up with new gestures for my characters. People watching is priceless in this regard, even paying attention to what actors do in movies.

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    2. I just started watching movies in a new light. :)

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  3. In addition to what Moody said, those non-standard expressions are usually the most worthwhile in prose. It is a writer's job to come up with alternatives to the cliche. I'll definitely give the Bookshelf Muse link a shot. Always worth expanding the reference base!

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    1. So true! We need to not only come up with gestures that aren't cliches, but vary them within our own work. I often find myself having characters repeat certain gestures throughout a book. That can work if it's a character habit, but usually it's just a writer flaw.

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  4. Heidi, this is so helpful! I'm following you because I don't want to miss out on any of your great tips.

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    1. Thank you Carolyn. I'm glad you find my posts helpful. :)

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  5. Gestures are an excellent way to show. I know I don't use them enough.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  6. Love The Bookshelf Muse, but hadn't heard of the other - I've already bookmarked the link for future reference. Thanks for sharing!

    I'll be back tomorrow to check out your humor post.

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  7. I know about The Bookshelf Muse, but I haven't heard Body Language Expert. Definitely bookmarking that site. :)

    A to Z Participant
    Cherie Reich - Author and Surrounded by Books Reviews

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    1. The Bookshelf Muse seems to be popular, and for good reason. Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. The Bookshelf Muse is a treasure. Learned a lot from them. I have to check the other. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Al. Best of luck with your writing. :)

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  9. Great post! I usually tend to use gestures rather than dialogue tags. I think the reader gets a much clearer picture that way.

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    1. I know I enjoy reading character actions more than dialogue tags. :)

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  10. Fantastic resources! Thanks for sharing them!

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  11. Great resources you list there. I use them often. Thanks for visiting my blog.

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    1. I had a blast at your blog! Thanks for your comment.

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  12. So very true...gestures mean different things in different places...and that's just on our planet.

    I always enjoy stories where a seemingly innocent gesture on Earth is a huge offense on a distant world.

    Great post and thank you for stopping by my blog :)

    Left and Write

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  13. You're right, the scope is very broad. I can't remember ever reading a story where an Earth gesture offends in a distant world, but that sounds like a really good time. :)

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