Improving Character Description With Body Language


Characters Who Move

According to Mehrabian, 55% of communication depends on body language, 38% on tone-of-voice, and 7% on the words used. That’s bad news for novelists because we don’t have direct access to the body language as we work with our fictional characters – they are just words on a page. Adding body language to a character description puts the character into action and enriches the overall profile.

When you write a novel, you can describe body language and with the right descriptions, the communication embedded is apparent and you don’t have to interpret it for the reader.

  • Fingertip kiss–praise
  • Nose tap–keep it secret
  • Head toss–negatives
  • Chin Flick–disinterest
  • Eyelid pull–I am alert

Think also about giving your character(s) their own typical body language to mean certain things. For example, a girlfirend holds up her hand palm out and makes a shoving motion toward her boyfriend in a gesture that means STOP.

The Definitive Book of Body Language is focused on business communication, but it has interesting information.

Beware of overusing common forms of body language. For example, “he turned” is often used when a character shifts focus from one thing to another. Look for other actions to fill in here by putting something in the character’s hands or using something from the setting.

Read more in 15 Days to a Stronger Character

1 Comment
  • Janni
    January 10, 2008

    The trick for me is varying body language–at the end of the first few drafts, I tend to over rely on few things–say, having everyone shrug and do nothing else, or the like. :-)