Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Words Cannot Express

By Lisa Karon Richardson

Don’t get me wrong. I love words. Words are to me what dance is to Dina. I need them. But experts say that as much as eighty-five percent of face-to-face human communication is done by body language. Are you with me on that? That means that only fifteen percent of our communication is accomplished by the words we’re saying. Even the sea witch, Ursula from The Little Mermaid recognized that body language can do what voice sometimes cannot. And who can forget her little shimmy with that poor benighted eel?
While preparing for a hefty rewrite of one of my first manuscripts, I’ve been doing a bit of research into personality types and the way we relate to one another. I found it fascinating that each of the personality categories also have characteristic gestures that they make when talking. And each of these gestures seem to pinpoint who they are at the core. For example, rationals tend to draw their fingers together as if they’re making the very finest point on their discussion that they can. While guardians might make a sharp chopping motion, indicating that a conversation is over.
All this got me to thinking about books. What are some of the commonest gestures we find in books? How do we interpret (or misinterpret) them?

The raised eyebrow-cynicism, a question or an embarrassing facial tic.
Tucking hair behind an ear-indicates that the person is just a little disheveled, i.e. endearingly human.
Nibbling a lower lip-the character is nervous, or incredibly hungry.
Folding hands in lap-points to the character being serene or demure.
Snapping fingers-shows impatience or possibly that they just can’t stop the beat.
Tapping foot-more impatience or maybe annoyance
Gritted teeth-great anguish of spirit

Pursed lips-prissiness
Stroking a moustache-evil intentions
Rubbing temples-a difficult decision to be made or a headache
Cracking knuckles-the fun and games are over and the beat down is about to begin.
I know there must be many more of the common physical reactions that I haven’t covered. What are your favorites and how do you interpret them?


  1. Hi Gang,
    Great post, Lisa. Body language is interesting. When I'm at work I like to study body language in the cafeteria. Although crossed arms are frequently associated with anger or maybe closing ones self off, at our place it can sometimes be that we're just plain cold. :)

    I will forever love Spock's raised eye-brow on Star Trek.

    And my own body language speaks of tiredness when I take my glasses off and rub my eyes. I know I do that too much, probably in meetings.:)

    Love your pic of Ursala. Have a great day, inkies and visitors.

  2. Wow, I made it into Lisa's blog. Cool. I tend to put more stock in a persons nonverbal communication than what they're actually saying. But a lot of that also comes through in tone and simply in the emotions emanating from them. I have a hard time actually picturing the body language when it comes time to write the scene. I'll have to look more into body language to match personality types. Very interesting.

  3. This article was interesting. I never knew that personality types have certain gestures.

  4. Hey, Jilly that's a good one, rubbing the eyes. Do you ever take your glasses off and tap them against your lips when you're thinking? I think I probably would if I weren't wearing them to see (as opposed to just reading with them)

  5. Dina, I think most of us put a lot of stock in the way people move as they communicate, but it's subconscious. We don't even realize we're doing it most of the time.

    Have you ever watched the TV show Lie To Me? Fascinating premise about a guy that helps the police solve mysteries by reading body language and figuring out who's lying and what about.

  6. Adge-If you're interested in personality types and psychology the book I've been reading is Please Understand Me II by David Kiersey.

    Fascinating on a personal level, and a wonderful tool if you're interested in writing at all.

  7. Lisa,
    I've never seen, Lie To Me. Sounds fun. When's it on?

    Also, I've never taken my glasses off and tapped them against my lips while thinking(but I may start.):) I'm too blind and always afraid of breaking them.:)
    But I have seen women take their glasses off and chew on the earpieces. I never did understand that, but another form of thinking or anxiety maybe.

  8. Jilly,

    It's on Monday nights at 8:00. Here's a link with more info about the show.

    Oh! oh! I just thought of another one that girls do all the time. Twirl their hair around their finger. My daughter does it when she's tired. Anyone else do that?

  9. I didn't know about the gestures correlating to personality types, either, but now that you mention it, I can see it! I'll have to look into that book, too.
    Wonderful post, Lisa!

  10. Good stuff, Lisa! I love "Lie to Me". It's fascinating how the different micro-expressions can convey a person's true feelings. And Tim Roth is a kick!

  11. Thanks, Niki! I think any writer would find the book helpful. Especially if they're like me and the plot comes first and the characters secondary.

  12. Jen, of all the Inkies I knew I could count on you to know what show I was talking about. I love his accent in the show don't you!

  13. Gee, I had trouble sleeping. Do you think it's because I missed a day at the inkwell?

    I often cross my arms while talking to people. If I think of it, I uncross them. And it's not just people I may be uncomfortable with. It's everyone. I suppose I should go back into my hermit "ISTJ" cave now...

    I've heard a lot about that book Please Understand Me. I took an online Body Language course last year and ended up with a binder full of resources. Great stuff! Thanks Lisa. I am meeting your eyes when I say that so you can tell I'm serious about it.

  14. Deb, I do think it was because you missed a day. This place is addictive like coffee or caffeine, but without any unpleasant side effects if you get your daily dose!

    I'm pretty introverted like you in public, Deb, and I've caught myself with my arms crossed during a sermon, and thought, I hope he doesn't think I disbelieve what he's saying, I'm just more comfortable this way.

  15. Lisa, YES, I adore Tim Roth's accent. But then, I'm a sucker for certain accents.

    Deb, welcome back to the Inkwell. It's hard to skip a day, isn't it?

    You know, the whole "crossing your arms" thing is tricky. I know what it's supposed to mean, but I cross my arms a lot. While I tend to be introverted, I think it's more a physical issue with me. Since neither of my elbows unbend completely, it's kind of uncomfortable to let my arms just hang by my side. So I cross them, or put hands in my pockets, or something. So if we're having a conversation and my arms are crossed, please don't take it personally!

  16. I guess we have to remember that just because certain things often mean a certain reaction is going on, it can't be true every time. The stuff of miscommunication. Ah, what wonderful depths can be plumbed for the sake of making our characters suffer, er... um... art. The sake of our art.

  17. Wow I really did not realize how central body language is to us as human being but yes you are right 90 percent of my thoughts are reflected in body language

  18. Louise, thanks for stopping by! It's amazing the difference it makes when we become more attuned to body language. We realize sometimes why we're interpreting a seemingly innocuous statement as if it's an insult, or why we know someone is really into us.


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