As we know, developing a deep contrast of layers in our characters is crucial for a vivid reading experience. So in this final installment of Using Body Language in Your Novel, we’re going to continue all the way down to the feet. But I’ll also cover some extra tips about body language for your characters, and the importance of a baseline. Say what? Well, keep reading . . .
Our bodies are traitors who quietly communicate to others what we’re truly thinking. But that’s okay; you can use this to your advantage when adding depth to your scenes. And it’s pretty much gold for your readers. Why? Think about it: giving your reader insight into your sneaky foreshadowing will make them feel like they’re in on the secret even if they’re not quite sure what the secret is. A camaraderie if you will.
Just remember, as much as description can be powerful, it’s easy to overdo it. So please, umm . . . don’t do that. A little goes a long way!
Here are some body language “tells” to further enhance your characters’ emotions:
PART FOUR: LEGS, FEET, & BONUS TIPS
Let me share something that might blow your mind: our most honest body parts . . . wait for it . . . are the legs and feet.
You’d think it would be the face—particularly our eyes—but you’d be wrong. Much like I was. The reason for this is our survival instinct, which hasn’t changed even with thousands of years of evolution. The purpose of our legs has always been to move forward, get food, and to run away from danger. So if you’re talking to a nosy neighbor, no matter how big your smile, your feet are probably facing your escape route. And on that note, always pay attention to where the feet are facing.
* Legs together, standing. This can be used to indicate your character is paying attention, with no commitment to stay or go, and with a neutral attitude. Think of an employee’s stance when his boss is talking or a soldier waiting for instructions.
* Legs apart, standing. This can be described as both feet planted firmly on the ground—with a pelvic display if you will. Use it to showcase your male character’s macho attitude, or to make it clear he has no intention of leaving. In other words, it’s a dominant stand.
* Crossed legs, in general. This can be used to indicate your character is feeling defensive, vulnerable, self-conscious, or is cold. This can be combined with crossing the arms. Keep in mind, if your character is actually cold, she’ll likely tuck her hands under her armpits and not the elbows.
* Crossed legs, standing. This can be used to indicate your character intends to stay put, is feeling defensive, has a closed-minded attitude, suffers from low self-esteem, or that he’s standing among strangers.
For female characters, you can use it to show she’s interested in staying where she is, but also that access to her nether regions is denied. A silent body communication that she’s not interested or attracted to the person she’s talking to.
* Crossed legs, sitting. This can be used to indicate your character’s resistance, defensiveness, or that he is feeling closed off and withdrawn. For women, it can be used to either showcase she’s trying to look attractive, or that her knees are pointing in the direction of someone she finds attractive.
* Leg shaking. This can be used to indicate your character’s anxiety, frustration, uneasiness, annoyance, or irritation.
* Pacing. This can be used to indicate your character is feeling nervous or scared. Or on the opposite end, if your character is delivering a motivational or powerful speech as he walks around the room, it can showcase his confidence and leadership.
* Foot/feet forward. This can be used to indicate your character’s intentions. Our lead foot usually points in the direction our mind would like to go. When two people talk to each other, they normally speak toe to toe, and you know the conversation is going well. If your character is in a group, his feet can either point to the nearest exit if he wants to leave or in the direction of someone he finds attractive.
* Pointing toes upward, sitting. This can be used to indicate your character is excited, hearing good news, or enjoying a conversation.
* Crossed ankle or ankle lock, sitting. This can be used to indicate your character is feeling withdrawn, holding back negative emotion, trying to hide fear, or is feeling uncertain. For female characters, highlight it by tucking her crossed ankles under the chair, and for male characters combine it with clenched fists.
* Foot tapping. If your character is tapping her foot repeatedly on the floor, it can indicate she’s feeling impatient, scared, anxious, or is in a hurry.
* Mirroring body language. If two of your characters are mirroring postures and movements, it means they’re feeling a connection or bond to each other. You can use this to indicate that a conversation or date is going well.
* The importance of a baseline. Nothing is more important to showcase your character’s true emotion than establishing a baseline. She’s going to have her quirks, habits, and her set of rules and values. If the reader understands how your character acts from day to day, any behavior that’s out of the ordinary will invite the reader to feel whatever is wrong more intensely. It also deepens the bond with the readers and your character as your character’s arc unfolds. But when it comes to body language, having a point of reference can be crucial.
* Discomfort & stress. Men and women have different body language tells for discomfort and stress. For a male character, he’ll be more likely to keep touching his face, and tugging his shirt away from his neck to get air. For a female character, she’ll fidget by touching her neck, jewelry, arms, hair, and purse a lot. She’ll also try getting ventilation on her neck by tossing her hair back repeatedly.
* Lying gestures. Some extra signs to indicate your character is lying can be: he’ll cover his mouth, rub his eyes, grab his ear, nod a lot, touch his nose, and scratch his neck. (Yes, “he” 😛 )
So remember, the key is to add a mismatch between what your character is saying and what his body language is revealing. Use these “tells” sparingly, and you’ll be adding a great layer of emotional description! 😉
See Part One—Facial Expressions here.
See Part Two—Eyes, Pupils, & Eyebrows here.
See Part Three—Arms, Shoulders, & Posture here.