Is your dialogue in sync with your characters’ body language?

According to experts, our body language and tone of voice convey a lot more to others than the words we speak. Some say up to 70% of communication is non-verbal. What we say isn’t nearly as important as how we say it.

Non-verbal communication is just as powerful in fiction. As writers, we need to consciously and carefully pair action with dialogue to reveal character and deliver our intended emotional punch. It’s all part of making every word count.

When I look back at my first writing efforts, the movements of my characters read like stage directions. He crossed the room, he ran his fingers through his hair, he picked up a glass. All boring and cliché bits of business there to identify who was speaking and little else.

More experienced writers know how to put body language to work for them. They know how action and other nonverbal cues can change the tone of a scene, add emotion, illuminate character or add tension.

Author Hallie Ephron has some examples and tips on adding emotion through body language here.

And, today, I stumbled across some great examples of how body language is commonly interpreted over on the blog of artist Ron Huxley—a fount of inspiration and creative distraction. 

I started using the power of body language more consciously in my own writing after taking psychologist and popular writing teacher Margie Lawson’s Empowering Characters’ Emotions course. Margie also offers a self-guided study packet on body language and dialogue cues.

Margie is a very engaging instructor, and I can recommend her courses to anyone looking to learn more about this topic. Classes also provide opportunities for peer feedback.

Photo Odin Fotografia

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4 Comments on “Is your dialogue in sync with your characters’ body language?”

  1. beckony says:

    Thanks for the link to the body language guide–I try to use body language in my writing but always end up talking only about the characters’ hands (for some reason I can make that detail work).

  2. Ermilia says:

    I think most writers start out writing like it was directions for a stage play, I know mine did too. Finding that balance between description, body language and dialogue can be a difficult one. Many people reinforce the need for dialogue to quicken the pace of reading but at the same time they miss the body language that carries along with those words. Often, simple but effective phrases about their body language or tone can be much more indicative of the message being expressed than words. Those links you provided are really good as well. Thanks for sharing it with us. Lovely piece, a great read for all writers.

    – Ermisenda

    • Sheri Hart says:

      Thanks Ermisenda. I’m glad you found the links useful. Finding the balance is tricky, but like you, I’m getting better. It’s encouraging to compare what I’m writing now with earlier work and see the improvement.

      Learning the lesson, too, that getting the balance is part of the layering effort. I have to give up thinking everything is going to be there in the first draft. Rather it gets built up, layer upon layer, draft after draft.

      Sheri