1. Cady36
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    Cady36 Member

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    Body language and hand gestures

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Cady36, Jan 6, 2009.

    I'm having trouble adding realistic body language for my "project". So finally stopped this afternoon, and kicked out a short short, hoping something would click and that I could get a handle on it. I didn't. I can make my characters walk across the room or whatever, but the gestures that people make when they talk with their hands? Nuh uh.

    On the story I was on this afternoon, my darling of a husband snatched it out of my hand and actually blocked it out like it was a scene in a play - lol. Didn't help. For one line I could imagine the guy talking emotionally with both hands and then dropping them to his sides in frustration at the end of his short speech. That's exactly how John happened to do it when he read it, too. But how do you WRITE something like that? There isn't a word for it like "shrug" if you see what I mean. (In the story, I just...skipped it.)

    When writing dialog, how do you guys describe the hand gestures that people use every day? I can make them drink a drink, write something, toy with something on the table, but if they don't have something in their hands I'm sunk - lol.

    Is there a manual out there some where? (Just kidding...kind of.)

    Thanks much,

    Cady
     
  2. Benska
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    Benska Member

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    Well I think I know what you're getting at. I'll give you some examples of what I might do, I hope it helps, and doesn't suck too bad.

    "You know, this is all your fault!" Bob snapped, pointing an accusing finger at charley.

    Charley spread his arms wide, "There was nothing I could do!" he said, raising his voice to match Bob's.

    Bob sat back down, resting his elbows on the table, and his head in his hands. He gave a dramatic sigh, shaking his head, "You can be so stupid sometimes!" he almost growled, before standing up again and pacing back and forth.

    Ok there's my attempt at some angry body language(with some extremely un-creative, common names. =P)
    I'll have a go at some nervousness:

    Donavin stood nervously shifting his weight form one foot to the other, his hands buried deep in his pockets. His fingers brushed against the lockpick, reminding him again why they were standing in that dark alley, at the back door of the jewelery store "Are you sure it has to be today that we do the heist? I mean,can't it wait maybe... I dunno, a week or so?"

    Tucker was leaning against the wall with one foot resting on the other, his typical Nothing-worries-me-in-the-slightest stance. He shook his haid slightly and took a puff of his 'ciggy,' as he dubbed it. "Look, Don, I can understand why you're nervous," he pushed himself off the wall and strode cooly towar Donavin, "this being your first big job and all. But just relax, okay?"

    I'll try some hapiness:

    "Oh, thank you thank you thank you!" Cindy said in her high-pitched teen girl voice as she bounced on her toes and clapped her hand together. She hugged Sam tightly around the neck, lifting her left foot up behind her. "You're the best!" she whispered into his ear exitedly. She gave him a kiss on the cheek, leaving a smear of lipgloss. She turned and happily bounced out the door.

    Sam blinked. "Uh, yeah. No problem." He said long after she exited.

    Yeah, I'm not the best writer, and don't have much time, but I hope this helped =].

    ~Ben
     
  3. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    The following examples are not related.

    He touched his chin as if thinking.

    She raised a hand, and said, "Hey."

    He raised one finger. "Wait a minute."

    She blinked twice and said nothing.

    He tapped his foot. "Let's go already."

    Little Johnny threw both hands in the air. "Daddy."

    She knuckled her eyes. "It's already time to get up?"

    She brushed a strain of hair behind her ear.

    He pressed his hair back with both hands. "My dad is going to kill me."

    He shoved his hands deep into his pickets and slouched, as if trying to hide.

    He briefly touched his nose. "Honestly, I didn't eat it."

    He pressed each finger together, thumb to thumb, index to index, pinke to pinkie, and narrowed his eyes. "What's your excuse this time?"

    She held her hands together behind her back and sort of rocked back and forth from heel to toe--heal to toe.

    He rested his chin on his fist.

    He kicked a pebble.

    She stretched both arms out and yawned.

    Not aware of it, he rubbed his forearm. "Umm, would you like . . ." He gulped. "Well, I was wondering if . . ."

    She placed her hand on her head. "Whoa."

    Waiting for the bus, she slightly bounced on her feet.

    He tossed his arms out. "How could you do this?"

    She held her palm out to him. "Whatever."

    She stared at her feet. As if her fingers had a mind of their own, they played with her coat zipper.

    He moved his arms about casually as he talked. << this paints an image because we are all familiar with the little casual movements people make with their arms and hands while talking. There is no need to get detailed in this case.

    She balled her hands into fist and held them at her sides. "Fine. Just go then."

    He waited in the doctors office. While glancing around at the magazine rack, the old man picking his nose, the kid playing with a red car, he wiped his hands on his thighs. Then he breathed in deeply through his nose. He was going to be fine. It was just a doctors visit.

    He rested his heavy hand on her shoulder. "It's going to be okay. God will provide."

    Hopefully that helps. If you want more types of examples let me know.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Less is more. Don't try to overdescribe. Let the context shape the reader's perception.

    The point is he was no longer meeting the other person's gaze, not the exact angle of his unfocused glance. Don't micromanage.
     
  5. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I think you just need to expand your vocabulary a bit more. The words are out there. You've already described how he dropped his hands to his sides in frustration--that's good, I can picture that. As for gesturing emotionally with his hands, how about "gesticulate"?

    Don't feel you have to describe EVERY motion, though. I know my characters gesticulate and wave their arms and clench their fists and do all sorts of things, but if I described every single gesture I'd go nuts.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have to agree with Cogito in that less is more. Don't over-manhandle the reader's inner eye.
     
  7. Cady36
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    Cady36 Member

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    Thanks guys - all of that was helpful. I don't want to make them look like cheerleaders or anything, but this is definitely enough to make my characters not feel like season one of South Park!

    Thanks!

    Cady
     
  8. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    In the acting game, physical gestures are usually called 'business', but even though a play is full of movement and gestures, they're 'always' in context. From my experience, the same 'law' goes for fiction; any gesture or action should be specifically connected to the objective of the character. Nothing should be superflous or outside of the character's persona. I would also shy away from being over-descriptive, which can be hard to do when it proves a comfort. Describing indistinct actions distracts from what you're really trying to say, so stay at a minimum and let the 'actions' speak for themselves. Good luck with your project.:)
     
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    This made me chuckle! I've noted the point about gestures being 'relevant', but you've made me realise how rarely I indicate gestures. Perhaps I should experiment a bit more, without going over the top, obviously.
     
  10. Michel Zhivago
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    Michel Zhivago Member

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    The thing that strikes me reading this is that you don't notice your best friend's body language. So maybe introduce the kind of body language they have when you introduce the character, and then only point it out when it's exaggerated or different.

    I don't know if I'm explaining this very well: if this is written from Bob's viewpoint, for example, he won't notice his friend Charley's body language particularly. Or he might notice certain little things. But for the most part, people should be able to tell if your character is excited, angry, tense, sad, etc. from the dialogue (which, admittedly, I find to be the hardest thing to write), or from passages of descriptive writing; not from 'stage directions' inserted into the writing, which tend to break the reader's immersion in the conversation.

    Basically, if there's a point to including it, do so, but otherwise don't. I often find this stage difficult, handing a measure of imaginative control over to the reader and being more spartan in my writing.
     
  11. Trevor
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    Trevor Member

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    Many times if you develop the character through dialogue with other characters thoroughly the text can quite easily imply certain gestures.
     
  12. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/bodylanguage.html

    I saw the title of the thread on the main page and remembered something I'd read once. Maybe it'll help a bit?
     
  13. laciemn
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    laciemn Senior Member

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    I think that good body language means describing the characters attitude or emotion at the time. Keep that in mind when writing...what do you do with your body when you're angry? What do other people do? Just keep it natural and don't have your characters doing overdramatic stuff like destroying furniture or something if they aren't in the right emotional state or it seems fake.
    Also if they are sad, you can't just write "Sam is sad" you write something about her that makes it obvious that she's sad, like "sam is crying." Seriously though, that sentence sucks too but you get the idea.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I agree that good use of body language can enhance characterization. Two books I've read recently exemplify this quite well. In Lie Down With the Devil, by Linda Barnes, private investigator Carlotta Carlile has a nervous habit that is pointed out to her early in the book, when she is discussing her "little sister" Paolina with the girl's therapist. Carlotta tugs at strands of her hair when she is upset, even to the point of pulling strands out. At a few poiints later in the book, she catches herself pulling at her hair and stops - it clearly indicates her emotional state, thanks to the setup earlier.

    In Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta, Kay's husnband, former FBI profiler Benton Wesley has never fidgeted. But he is dealing with some inner doubts and guilt. On a couple distinct occasions, he picks up a paper clip and begins bending it back and forth until it breaks. This reveals his emotional state in a way no straightforward "telling" could. He is a wreck, and trying to conceal it.

    These work as well as they do because they are both memorable and sparingly used. Neither author uses body language in every scene, even though the POV characters in each case are professionally very observant of such details.
     
  15. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I read books, and I always want to go above and beyond what I see. Say, Cogito, are you an advocate of trying new things?
    There were moments in books where there is JUST the right amount of dialogue-to-action ratio, just the correct word usage, and just the right amount of thought and description of OTHER character's movements.
    But, as you said, it happened sparingly. And by 'sparingly' I mean, 'maybe twice in the whole book'.

    Should these techniques be used so severely infrequently? You begin noticing things that people write a lot, (in a book I was reading recently, she tended to use a certain word every twenty or so pages, and even that I took notice of)

    There are certain 'invisible words,' such as 'and' or 'said,' but I feel that it is a sad waste to use the visible words so seldom.
     

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