How to Help your Characters Speak Without Saying a Word
90% of communication is non-verbal, but what does it mean when someone lifts their chin, twirls their hair, or shakes with both hands? By understanding the fundamental emotions and how they are expressed and experienced, an author can create a richer narrative for the reader. We’ll look at the 8 basic emotions: surprise, anger, sadness, disgust, contempt, fear, embarrassment, and happiness. We’ll also examine the different types of hugs, kisses, handshakes and smiles, as well as the inherent structure of flirting.
About Jennifer Carole Lewis:
Jennifer Carole Lewis is a local paranormal romance author who has spent many years learning to break down non-verbal communication for her children with autism. After awhile, she realized she’d also created a valuable writing resource. She is a full time mom, with a full time job, as well as being a full time writer, which means that she is very interested in speaking to anyone with a practical cloning or time-travel method.
This week our ORWA meeting was at a new location. We met at the James Bartleman City Archives (100 Tallwood Drive) and really enjoyed the large room and natural light. In the meeting portion we discussed what everyone is working on, and a recap from the RWA conference that our officers attended over the summer.
For the workshop portion, our own Jennifer Carole Lewis presented “Beyond the Furrowed Brow, How to Let Your Characters Speak Without Saying a Word,” her class on nonverbal communication. She’s presented it for our chapter in the past, for other RWA chapters, and for the annual RWA conference in California last year.
Her presentation was very informative and engaging. She had gifs, images and diagrams to demonstrate exactly the different expressions and postures that showed nonverbal cues. She even had practice exercises and audience participation. One of the things I found really fun was her examples of real versus posed emotion (candid images versus stock photos with models).
She also gave good tidbits, such as explaining that all emotions are triggered by an outside force. This backs up the good writing advice that one should never structure plot as “and then this happened” but instead as “this happened, therefore this next thing happened”.
She also explored the range of each emotion and what other emotions each is commonly paired with. She also discussed mirrored emotions, those that will make others with empathy feel similar (as in, if you see someone crying you’ll likely also feel sad).
After the first section of looking at the basic emotions, she then took us through social cues, such as different types of smiles, kisses, hugs, and courtship cues that mean different things.
The group of us came away ready to write more well-rounded and vibrant characters thanks to the advice from Jenn!