Tuesday, 19 March 2019

How I Write: Using Gesture as an Expression of Character

Welcome to today's How I Write, in which I will be sharing some thoughts on using gesture to show different aspects of your characters.


So many things can add to the image a reader constructs of your characters. Obviously there’s physical appearance, and how they speak, but don’t forget to consider gesture as well. The way in which your characters move, their little mannerisms, add to the impression you give your reader. Perhaps one tucks her hair behind her ear when she’s nervous, while another cracks his knuckles when he’s bored.

The trick here is not to go overboard. You don’t want to turn your characters into caricatures. Keep it simple, though, and mannerisms can become a good indicator of your character’s mood. Once you’ve established a link between an action and a certain emotion, you no longer need to spell out what your character is feeling each time, aiding in the old ‘show don’t tell’ approach.

So, here are my three tips for using gesture and mannerisms in your characterisation.

1) Keep it in proportion—no more than one or two traits per character. If you overload them with too many, they won’t be memorable.

2) Don’t overdo it—use these traits sparingly. If they start appearing on every page, they will swiftly become repetitive and lose impact.

3) Relevance—use the traits as a means to show feelings without having to spell out emotion, but only when it’s relevant to do so. For example, if you’ve established a link between knuckle-cracking and boredom, don’t then have the character crack their knuckles for other reasons too.

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