Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Writing - Character Development - Body Language and Show Don't Tell - Part One

Readers expect a great deal more than just words on a page. They want to become a part of the story. Be able to not only see the characters and the scenery, but also feel the love, hate, joy and emotional tension of every scene. Every character has a specific physical look, but they also have internal mechanisms that affect their physical appearance. For Part 1 we're going to take a look at Anger and the physical attributes that a character might express that will clue in the reader to the emotional status of the character. In other words, we're going to show the body language related to anger.

The word Anger is often used to describe a variety of emotions - resentment, wrath, rage, fury, passion, indignation, displeasure, vexation. Most of these are associated with a strong feeling of extreme displeasure accompanied by a desire to punish the object of your displeasure. Anger can be passive or aggressive. Today I'm going to focus on facial expression of anger.

Facial Expressions of Anger:

The face is a perfect indicator of human moods and emotions. And a perfect writing tool to emphasize the emotional turmoil or mood of your characters. Let's break it down.

Anger signs:

Eyebrows - Lowered eyebrows, pulled together to form wrinkles in the skin of the forehead

Eyelids - lower and upper eyelids tighten as brows knit together. Intense anger may cause the upper eyelids to raise

Eyes - eyes wide with fixed gaze or stare; squinted - a light tick at the corner of an eye usually following the tightening of the jaw muscles

Mouth - flattened or clenched; teeth bared

Jaw - tightened or jutting

Face color - red

Also keep in mind there are various degrees of anger. Your character may go from minor frustration to a slow boil, and then an all out fit of rage. Anger can also be evoked by other emotions such as fear, emotional pain and grief. Many times anger is expressed through words either screamed at the source of the anger, or soft-pitched words that are dangerous in their undertone.

Anger can be expressed and shown in many ways. It can be hot and explosive, or slow and seething. Anger can also be cold. A stiff and rigid back, a cold shoulder or soft words spoken in an icy manner. Ragged shallow breathing. Rapid heart beat. Anger can be shown through written passages, or heated dialogue.

So with this in mind, let's develop our character and his/her characteristic of anger. For the purpose of this demonstration I've chosen "Joe" a retired police officer now private investigator. Knowing this, we know that Joe most likely has dealt with angry people throughout his career and is an expert in recognizing the signs of anger, as well as an expert hopefully in controlling his own anger.


Marie handed Joe the current readout on Cosgrove. The report wasn't good, but she knew Joe would take it in stride. After all he wasn't a hotheaded teenager prone to fits of rage. A slight tremor of fear started in her stomach as his lips tightened and a dull red flush started at the base of his neck. She took a step backwards as the trembling hands holding the report slowly ripped it into tiny pieces.

Okay, now the scene above shows that Joe is getting angry. What appears to be a slow seething anger. We have the tightening of the lips and the dull red flush, and the slow ripping of the report. We then have Marie stepping backwards away from him. Of course, Marie stepping backwards could also be a sign that Joe at times has more of an explosive personality.

I personally see Joe as the slow, seething, soft icy word type.

Now you've developed your character's reactions to anger. You can change them throughout the story, however, you will need a clear explanation for you readers as to why his reactions change.

Check back tomorrow as we explore other emotions and body language.

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