Years ago, my family owned a small business. As any small business person will tell you, customer service is important. Not only did I try to meet our customers needs, I made sure to smile and say thank you. I engaged in small talk and stayed involved with community events.
Our customers were as varied as the products we sold. Most were likable but there were those couple of people who just didn’t make me feel all warm and toasty. I thought I’d managed to hide those feelings only to come to the realization I hadn’t been successful.
After paying for his purchase, the customer lingered, wanting to talk. At some point in the conversation he asked whether he smelled bad. I assured him that he didn’t. He then went on to ask why I kept backing away from him. The truth was that while he didn’t smell bad and there was a counter between us, I felt like my space was being invaded. While my words and facial expression (smile) said one thing, my body language (unconsciously moving away) told the truth of how I felt.
I have been reading She Sat He Stood: What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk? by Ginger Hanson. She points out the importance of studying body language and how our subconscious actions can reveal our true feelings. We can apply this to knowledge when writing dialogue. She also covers the use of settings and props. Having purchased several writers handbooks and being unable to finish reading them, I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed this one. Hanson offers a variety of helpful suggestions without putting the reader to sleep.
If you think you could use a little help with dialogue/body language, click the cover image. At only 99 cents, you can’t beat it!
If reading another writing advice book doesn’t appeal to you:
You might try watching old movies. I find that black and white movies work quite well because there are less visual distractions. Make sure to grab a pen and paper to take notes, otherwise, it becomes too easy to get lost in the film. Study the interaction between the actors. She (feeling vulnerable) might turn away and hug herself. He (feeling agitated) might lean on a balcony railing while taking a deep drag on his cigarette. The important thing is to recognize the actions the actors use to convey their characters’ feelings. This is ultimately what we as writers are trying to do – show not tell.
Have you stumbled across a tip or technique that has improved your writing? If so, please share.