Kinesics in Fiction

The body language of one’s characters of course must have something in common with the readers’ experience, or it won’t communicate anything to them. But how to make descriptions of body language interesting? And reveal character in the specific as well as in the general sense? And be clear to the reader but at the same time be as invisible as the word said in one’s prose?

I tend to focus on the characters’ eyes and on their hands. They often glance at each other, meet each other’s eyes, or look down or away. They touch another’s arm or hand. Habits are also useful. A character who is a smoker might have a whole separate vocabulary: when he is agitated, he might chain-smoke and fling the butts away into the darkness; when contemplating, he might light up slowly and blow smoke through his nostrils in long streams.

I also tend to have characters eat and drink while engaged in dialogue. In my earlier work, the characters ate all the time, in scene after scene. True, I could work in worldbuilding details about what they ate, and character details about how they ate it, but after a certain point it became ludicrous. A coffee-loving friend informed me that one of my manuscripts left her craving coffee because the characters indulged in it so much. I’ve become more careful since then.

I think body language is something to which I can’t pay close attention while I’m drafting, for fear of distracting myself from more important matters. But it’s a prime subject for when I’m rereading and editing.

A character’s body language can embody, pun intended, their emotions and some of their habitual traits and give them additional meaning. Graceful movements versus abrupt, jerky movements. A slow, weary pace instead of a brisk, lively one. A movement towards a touch, cut short.

The possibilities are endless.

Published by Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s writing showcases her voracious lifelong love of books. She reads over 120 new books each year, especially historical romance, fantasy, and space opera, and incorporates these genres into her erotic fiction. Her first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. When not writing, Victoria conducts research in libraries and graveyards, lectures about writing and selling erotica, and speaks at literary conventions on topics such as paranormal romance, urban fantasy, erotic science fiction/fantasy, and the empowerment of women through unconventional means. Her daily writing blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and author interviews. She also guest blogs for Heroes & Heartbreakers and The Criminal Element. She lives in Philadelphia.