In one scene, the irrepressible Peppy disparages the broad gesticulations and exaggerated facial expressions of the old silent films as “mugging for the camera”. This film has none of that.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go see it now.
Yes, yes… but how does this relate to writing?
A lot of a modern novel’s emotional action is conveyed in dialog. What happens when you remove it?
You’re left with silence…
that needs filling with effective body language.
There’s a scene where Valentin is sunk deep in despair. His anguish is clearly understood through his slumped posture, his disheveled appearance, the look on his face, his lethargic movements.
Not a word is necessary.
One of my favorite comments when I critique or judge is get out of the character’s head and into her body. Show a character’s emotion by what’s going on in her body, not via her words.
Instead of “I want to shout at you so much!” , or she was furious at her ill mother but she couldn’t say a thing, use emotive body language, Cathy pressed a fist against lips tucked between her teeth. Can you see Cathy desperately trying to keep her words contained?
Another example? Instead of “I’m scared to ask.” or Hayley was so jumpy about asking her mom about her dad, how about Hayley’s bent leg bounced like a maniac rubber ball. She stabbed her thigh with the brush handle to stop the darn jiggling. The brush and her leg bounced together. Can you see the incredible tension?
The next time you’re trying to show a character’s response, imagine him in a silent movie. How would you direct him to show his emotion?
Tip: For an awesome course on body language, I highly recommend Mary Buckham’s Body Language and Emotion at http://marybuckham.com/Onlineclasses.html
© Joan Leacott 2012 photo © pressmaster/123RF Stock Photo