10 Body Language Tricks for Deeper Characterization

I’ve written before about the importance of using strong body language for your characters. The September, 2011 Cosmopolitan magazine, featured an article by Mina Azodi on “Cool Mind Tricks that can Give you an Edge.” Really, she’s talking recent research on body language. Here are some extra body language tips to consider.

  1. Give your character a pair of sunglasses. The classic gambit of hiding behind a pair of shades actually frees a person to do and say anything. With inhibitions lowered, look out. It often translates into selfish or hedonistic behavior.
  2. Your character sits with one arm on a chair rest and the other draped along the chair’s back. Add an ankle crossed over the opposite knee. What do you have? Confidence. Only a confident character can pull off such an open, casual and yet commanding position.
  3. Your character nods yes. Angela and Judd are about to explode at each other. What can prevent the relationship from self-destruction? A simple nod of the head tricks a person into being more agreeable, and stops the escalation of an argument. Bring the characters to the brink, then pause and let one of them do a simple head nod to turn the scene toward a resolution.
  4. Your character washes his/her hands with soap. When Pilate washed his hands of Jesus death on the cross, he was practicing this body language technique. Studies show that when you make a decision, you are less likely to second-guess that decision if you wash your hands. Did Angela just lie to Judd? She’ll feel less guilty if she washes her hands. Even an antibacterial wipe works! So, after that argument when Angela just lied, send her to the kitchen to think about the relationship and let her wash away her worries.
  5. Your character picks up and holds a heavy object, like a paperweight. Is your character considering something important, about to make a decision? People tend to give their opinion more weight when they are holding something like a heavy clipboard. In the midst of decision making, send Judd down to lift weights. It will make him more serious and it’s likely the decision will be a better one.
  6. Your character presses up on the underside of a desktop or a table with his/her fingertips. Pressing up brings flexes the arm muscles you use to bring things closer to your body, which translates into more openness and creativity. Angela’s more likely to creatively solve a problem when she presses up with her fingertips. However, the opposite is also true: pressing down makes a person feel less accepting and more closed off. Press up and Angela gets creative about a problem; press down and she sulks.
  7. Your female character hugs a guy. Angela hugs Judd and–what happens? When women smell a man’s hair or skin, they instantly feel more relaxed. She doesn’t need that glass of wine, she just needs a quick hug and whiff. And it doesn’t have to be a flame that she hugs, just a brother or father will do.
  8. Your character takes a few steps backward. Stepping backwards seems to send your brain into problem-solving mode and you’ll be more likely to answer test questions with accuracy and speed. Angela and Judd fighting again (yes, fiction needs lots of conflict!)? This time, Judd takes a couple steps backward, away from Angela, which lets him see the big picture better and understand the correct next step for their relationship. In the end, it may send him into Angela’s arms, but he’s got to step backwards first in order to solve the problem.
  9. Doodle! Wow, I am so glad to see this one because I always doodle. Turns out that doodling can actually increase your memory by about 30%. Scientists speculate that the drawings engage the area of the brain which might otherwise be used for daydreaming and zoning out. Keep part of your brain busy, so the rest can pay attention–nice.
  10. Your character leans his/her upper body forward. Angela and Judd are discussing the possibility of getting married (I know, they argue so much, I am worried about them making it, too.) Scientists say that if you lean forward, it helps you visualize the future more vividly, so you’ll have an easier time planning. Angela leans forward and visualizes Prince Charming; Judd leans forward and Angela becomes the woman of his dreams. Together, leaning toward each other across the table, they might just imagine a future that will work.

Read more at 15 Days to a Stronger Character.

6 thoughts on “10

  1. Great uses for body language. I’ll have to remember this for my next project and my next argument! Thanks.

  2. Awesome tips, thank you. (Moody sent me via Scoop It.)

    So, my characters knit. It this akin to doodling, or would it be more nervous fidgeting – or would it be dependent on the character?

  3. Knitting sounds like it could be comparable to doodling.
    You’re right–probably depends on the character.

  4. These are brilliant body language tricks! I use some of these in my writing, but never thought to use some of the others. I guess I know what kind of changes I’ll be making. :)
    Thanks for sharing!

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