Quick question: what are your hands doing right now? One answer is they are probably scrolling the mouse down the screen of this article. Yet what about your other hand, the one not needed for scrolling right now? What were they each doing a minute ago? Five minutes ago?
And what about your face? Are you guilty of any of the following hand, face, and body movements? Jutting chin, eye rolls, head tilts, raised eyebrows, thin smiles, shoulder rolls, knuckle pops, playing with hair, beard tugging, eye wandering, knee jerks, finger tapping, or cuticle chewing?
As a writer, we have to be conscious of our unconscious movements and of those around us so we can pass them on to our characters. Those motions are what help breathe life into our one layer creations. Once these behaviors are in our character’s portfolios, we can see how they behave and change over the course of the book.
I have a friend, I’d call her an unconscious toucher. Unaware to herself, she habitually reaches out in conversations and taps people on the arm or shoulder as she is talking to them. I know another person who I speak with regularly. Recently, while we were in a more open location than normal, he repetitively, unknowingly touched my arm in conversation. Instantly my mind latched onto the change, contributed it to our new, more open, location, and wondered how I can give this habit to any current or upcoming character. Actually, the truth is, most the time, characters–good and bad–are composites of us and people we know or knew.
In fact that chance encounter is what gave me the idea for this particular post.
Incorporating subtle actions into our character profiles enriches the story. It makes the characters deeper, more real, or fleshed out. Readers can better picture the scenes and hopefully identify or relate with them. Should I be reading a book in which a character habitually reached out to touch another, I’d smile, nod in understanding and like that character all the more, because that’s my friend. Does the character in a book I read have a bad habit of rolling their eyes and sighing a lot? Yes, I’d relate to them, because that’s me.
We can read a book and see her “eyes flashed in anger”. But does she also jut her chin out and square her shoulders? Instantly, with those two extra motions, we add depth to that scene and re-enforce her anger and determination. We want to read on and see if she gets her way or not.
This week try to be more cognitive of your own body language, the unconscious things you do, and of those around you. See if they change from location to location. Then bring those findings and behaviors to the page and flesh out your characters. Breathe extra life into your story. As you read this week, be on the lookout for common, subtle body language and how often it shows up in the scenes.
Ryan Jo Summers is the author of seven Soul Mate Publishing books, including her most recent release, “Rainbows in the Moonlight“, an inspirational Christian romance novel about family and forgiveness in a small southern town. She lives in North Carolina with a houseful of rescued pets and too many houseplants.
“Rainbows in the Moonlight” link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B077Y22BYB