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.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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