Maybe because so much of it is subconscious, including body language in my writing has always been a challenge for me. If left to my own devices, my first drafts would look like a screenplay spliced with chapters from a travel book. I hear every word my characters say and visualize their surroundings in great detail. However, I tend to forget that people actually DO things when they're talking to each other or interacting with their environment. It's easy to fall back on cliches, but giving characters realistic gestures and impressions helps add much-needed depth and dimension.
While browsing the bookstore at an RWA national conference a few years ago, I picked up a copy of a very useful book, The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease. It covers every aspect of non-verbal communication in detail, including excellent photographic examples. Since we're talking about Love and Hate this month at The Roses of Prose, I thought I'd share a few of the signs of sexual attraction our characters might exhibit, .
- The Face Platter - A woman will place one hand on top of the other, then rest her face on both, presenting it to a man like a plate to be admired.
- Dilated Pupils - A sign of a general state of arousal. The authors claim this is one reason why romantic encounters are often successful in low light - both parties' pupils dilate and create the impression they are interested in each other.
- Lowering the chin and looking up (a favorite expression of the late Princess Diana) - a submissive gesture that appeals to men because it makes the eyes appear larger and makes a woman appear more child-like.
- Incursion in personal space - kisses or embraces between non-intimate partners maintain at least six inches between torsos and pelvic areas. Not so with lovers.
- Upright posture, emphasizing the chest (or breasts) and a lively gait signal health, suitability, and interest
- For women: head toss and hair flick, self-touching, wet lips, sideways glance over raised shoulder, dangling the shoe on the end of the foot
- For men: preening behaviors - straighten tie, adjust cuffs or watch, brush off imaginary dirt; thumbs-in-belt gesture to emphasize crotch; also anything that invites a woman to groom him, such as wearing his tie slightly off-center
The most interesting assertion in the book is that from a scientific perspective, women call the tunes during courtship rituals, and men do the dancing.
"The success women have in intimate encounters is directly related to their ability to send courtship signals to men and to decode those being sent back. For a man, success in the mating game relies mainly on his ability to read the signals being sent to him, as opposed to being able to initiate his own moves. Most women are aware of courtship signals, but men are far less perceptive, often being completely blind to them, which is why so many men have difficulty finding potential mates. Women's difficulty in finding partners is not about reading signals, it's more about finding a man who'll match their criteria."
Sounds more like real life than a romance novel to me, but there's still plenty of good, useful information in the book for writers. I highly recommend it!