Thursday, June 07, 2007

Gestures and Body Language - the unspoken dialog

There are many critical pieces to writing. Some are immediately obvious - dialog, using the senses, good grammar and sentence structure. Other are more subtle, but as badly needed - pacing, the flow (or music) of the words themselves, and character gestures/body language.

In a visual medium, gestures and body language tend to be subconscious clues we see as part of the whole picture, which if the actor is worth anything, will convey or emphasize emotions and relationships. They can add flavor and meaning to dialog, or even impart dialog without a word ever needing to be said. The actors Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, from the show Supernatural (oh yeah, plug the obsession why don't you?), are masters at this. You can pick up just about any episode and watch these two communicate with gestures and glances, or see their body postures add to whatever is going on whether things are being said or not. One beautiful example is at the end of the second season episode called "Playthings", where Sam brings up a promise Dean made and had hoped Sam would not remember. As soon as the dialog is done, they both get in the car. Dean glances over at Sam, hoping to somehow argue against the promise and comes to a stop. On the other side of the car, Sam is sitting like a stiff board, staunchly not looking at his brother but out the front of the car. His face is tight, and a muscle is jumping at his jawline. Seeing this, Dean says nothing and starts the car. Sam's body language spoke volumes to his brother and the audience, yet never a word was said. That's the beauty of body language - speaking without saying anything.

This same visual use of gestures and body language can be applied to written text. It can add dimensions of meaning and information not necessarily available by dialog or general description alone.

Let's take the innocuous sentence of "What do you want?". It's not much of a phrase and pretty much imparts nothing aside from the fact it implies a conversation between two people. Now let's add a smattering of body language or gestures to this sentence and see what happens.

Example 1 - Gary's eyes narrowed. "What do you want?"

Example 2 - Bobby shot Ben the finger. "What do you want?"

Example 3 - Rita leaned forward, giving a better view of her cleavage, her hungry gaze never leaving his. "What do you want?"

Example 4 - Velina snapped her fingers in front of his face, then turned away to drop in a relaxed heap into the nearest chair. "What do you want?"

Example 5 - "What do you want?" Debbie wouldn't look at Bob directly as she spoke, her shoulders hunched and hands clasped in a white knuckled grip before her.

Example 6 - "What do you want?" Rita gave him a sideways grin, and with a sweeping gesture pointed at the wall of goods to her right.

Hopefully, as you read each example, the gestures and body language added a flavor/dimension to what was actually being said, giving each instance of "what do you want?" a different impetuous and even revealing bits about the relationships of those involved. (Did you find yourself putting inflections on the words just from the hints? Cool, isn't it!) Though you know nothing about the characters or their situations at this point, just these tiny bits imparted a wealth of information, which instantly enriched the situation and fed your imagination.

So on your next project, don't forget to add some unspoken dialog to the work.

Gloria Oliver
www.gloriaoliver.com
Unveiling the Fantastic


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