Thursday, March 1, 2012

Body Language

As you know I recently returned from my travels in South America. We went all over Santiago including the neighborhoods, the Virgin Mary on the hilltop, the capital building, museums, Pablo Neruda's house (which is completely eccentric and three separate buildings all in one compound), and lastly to the beaches of Vina del Mar.

I was surprised how much of my Spanish from high school and my early college years came back to me. Sure, I didn't remember everything but in a lot of cases I could make due with what I did have in my arsenal. The most difficult part of the translation process was when I'd ask something in Spanish, it was understood by the recipient, and then was answered in what sounded like unbreakable code. "Como?"

Only no amount of repeats could make me know the words I may not have ever learned, or certainly didn't remember....and that's where body language came in. I was amazed at how much I could extract simply by observing the person I was talking to. There were multiple incidents where my father asked, "You understood them?" No, but I understood their body language.

I think this is an area given woefully too little attention by aspiring writers (at least from the WIPS and samples I've seen) and sometimes by published ones too. Yes, dialogue, and believable dialogue at that, is incredibly important. Too often, however, the actions of the characters between those bits of dialogue are riddled with activities that don't SHOW us anything about the character. Maybe they're grabbing a cookie or combing a hand through their hair. None of that TELLS the reader about what else is going on, about what else is being said.

So I want to encourage you to be cognizant of how you use body language in your piece and how you could do it better. As with most writing, it's always helpful to examine how some of our favorite authors tackle this. So tell me, who do you think is great at writing about body language and why?

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