Dialogue is a great tool to establish relationships between your characters and deepen emotional connection to your readers. But if you rely on dialogue alone to show how your characters interact, you’re missing a big opportunity. In real life, nonverbal cues—body language—account for more than 90% of our communication. Including body language in your writing gives your characters more depth and provides a relatable, interactive experience for your readers.
That’s easy enough to see in real-world interactions or on the stage or screen, but how can you write it into your story?
How to use body language effectively in your writing
There are so many components to body language, and many writers only ever use a few. To create believable and engaging characters, it’s important to look at all the ways to communicate body language in your writing.
Most of my clients don’t know this because we primarily work over email and telephone, but I talk with my hands. Big time. Some of your characters probably do too. Sure, not everyone uses finger guns (even though they should). But virtually everyone shakes hands, points, or waves.
One word of caution: be aware that your book will likely be read around the world, and some gestures have different cultural connotations. One common example is the two-fingered V. Other than being super popular now in selfies, it has also meant victory, peace, or an insult. If you use it, make it clear how it’s being used.
2. Facial expression
Again, some of us have very expressive faces, and others are harder to read. But facial expressions are an important part of body language because they are pretty much universal. Even people who curb their reactions still have tiny involuntary changes called microexpressions. Our brains pick up on these and decipher them, even when we aren’t aware that they’re happening. How cool is that?!
3. Tone of voice and cadence
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.” For example, my kids know I’m close to losing my patience when I slow my speech and lower the pitch of my voice. That’s their cue to get in line or risk Mom’s wrath. Your characters’ speech will sound different to each other, depending on what emotion they are feeling. How does your protagonist sound when she’s excited? Guilty? Apathetic?