Michille: Body Language, Lying, and Manipulation

https://writerswrite.co.za/10-poses-to-show-character-development-through-body-language/I was noodling around on one of my favorite writing blogs recently and found a post entitled 10 Poses to Show Character Development Through Body Language. The post referenced a TED talk from 2012 by Amy Cuddy about Body Language. Still noodling around the Internet on this topic, I came across this image on bodylanguage.com. These resources reminded me of one of the sessions I attended at an RWA in the past on “Body Language, Lying, and Manipulation” presented by Dr. Cynthia Lea Clark (I remember it because Linda Howard also attended it. She sat next to me and went all fan-girl on her).

This is good information for me because I tend to write bare bones and do a lot of telling in my first draft and have to go back and fill in details that show. How important is body language? I found one set of statistics that said 7% of communication is the words, while 38% is about tone of voice and inflection, and 55% is body language and facial expressions.

Body Language for Dummies talked about smiling. Smiling easily means you feel comfortable, but smiling all the time means you’re tense. If you smile when you first meet someone, you could come across as phony. Think sales person – they are paid to try to make you feel comfortable enough to buy. Think stereotypical used car salesmen to go from phony to smarmy. Using open body language but not smiling until you have been interacting with the other person for 2 minutes – you appear more trustworthy. Sheesh. I have no idea when I start smiling. I’ve worked in retail. Sometimes, you have to smile as soon as you meet someone.

In the Writers Write blog post, the focus was on High Power Poses versus Low Power Poses. High Power body language is open, like a spread-legged stance, arms akimbo, arm draped across an adjacent chair, standing/sitting straight or leaning back, etc. This can convey confidence, dominance, and control. Closed body language is arms crossed, legs crossed, arms folded on the table, and slouching. This can convey discomfort, insecurity, shyness, etc. Both can be a sign of lying depending on who is doing the lying. According to Cuddy, in real life, you can re-train your body language to help shape who you are. It would be an interesting aspect to character arc in a story, too, I would think.

Dr. Clark talked about four types of communication: haptic, kinesic, modeling, and non-verbal. She went into a lot of detail and had a lot of visual aids showing the aspects of communicating through touch, body movements, gestures, and modeling that could each have their own blog post. She said manipulation starts with rapport, which starts with eye contact. Meeting another’s gaze 60 – 70% of the time builds rapport. Shy people tend to meet gazes less than 30% of the time, which, according to Clark, makes them seem less trustworthy. A second part of this that brings in the body movements is nodding. Nodding when you ask a question at a rate of one nod per second will have the person answering you on the fourth nod. Who studies this stuff?

Haptic communication (through touch) is something that I have always keyed in on as a reader. Nora Roberts has a lot of touchy characters. Sometimes the characters touch waaaaay too early in a story for my taste. I’m not a touchy person. I hug members of my family, but I don’t hug very many other people. If a relative stranger put a hand on my arm, I would be very uncomfortable. It would totally turn me off. The other person wouldn’t get a chance to lie to me or manipulate me because I’d be out the door.

It’s not body language, exactly, but Lisa Kleypas has a character with a stutter than eases as she progresses through her story. That shows character growth for Evie. What do you use to show character growth? What do you like to read as evidence of character growth?

3 thoughts on “Michille: Body Language, Lying, and Manipulation

  1. I like that idea you gals came across at the conference this year about picking a verb for your character. If you do that then you could maybe think through a list of body language cues while you form your verb list. It could be very helpful to have a quick list for reference and you might be more likely to use it. You could massage the images later, but you’d have a functional starting point.

    I agree with you. I hug family and good friends, but for someone to be putting hands on me? It would be running the gamut between creepy and I’m going to hit you.

    • Wow! What a great idea to link the body language to the verb. That would make one more link to keep the book tight. I like the way Nora Roberts uses cliches and turns-of-phrase that match her characters, like if it’s an architect, he says/thinks “if you give them an inch” and things like that and if it’s a gambler, it’s all about “the odds of that happening” etc. Body language can be used the same way.

  2. I’m not super-huggy, either, and in general, Japanese culture isn’t. But when I get together with a lot of other foreigners, some of them just need a hug, so I do wind up doing a bit more hugging in that situation.

    Even high-fiving is a kind of weird situation. It wasn’t a super-common thing when I was growing up in my town. It was something we picked up from TV, but hadn’t quite internalized. Now? Lots of high-fiving going on, and other teachers seem to teach it to kids, so kids seem to expect foreigners to high-five.

    When I’m writing, I tend to use body language only when I’m stuck and the words aren’t saying what I need to convey. In that case, the body language also tends to take on adverbs — crossing legs uncomfortably or even worse, tilting heads quizzically. I use it as filler, and really, it can be a lot more powerful than that. I need to work on physicality in my work.

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