Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Speech Mannerisms & Body Language

I'm reading WRITING MAGIC by Gail Carson Levine, and I was reminded of two ways of communicating--speech mannerisms and body language. I think, I hope, I use body language in my writing, but I know for sure I don't use speech mannerisms as much as I could.

Speech Mannerisms

If the writer's done their job well with speech mannerisms, they sometimes don't need to identify the speaker. Levine tells of a judgmental character in her book, The Wish, who adds or takes away points. When the speaker said, "It's pretty weird, Wilma. Five points off for strange behavior," the reader automatically knew who was speaking. Pretty cool.

Levine's advice is to pay attention to what people say, and take note of how they say it. Here are some speech mannerisms I've noticed in others:
  • A man I know clears his throat each time he speaks
  • Young people often say "like" a lot when they're speaking (like, you know, the valley girls of the past. Like, not that I would know anything about that)
  • Some people start sentences with "you know" or "listen"
  • Parents might use the full name of a child when upset, and a nickname when they're pleased
Personally, I need to put much more thought into fun details like this. Can you think of any speech mannerisms you've noticed? Or any you've used in your characters?

Body Language

I'm much more comfortable adding this type of communication to my manuscripts. Characters, like real people, send strong messages without speaking. I wrote an article for kids about the subject here, and learned fun details through research.

Did you know that 93% of our communication is non-verbal? We don't have to tell the reader our character is embarrassed. We can write that his face is flushed, his feet are shuffling, or he's fiddling with his shirt sleeves. Showing, not telling.

If you're unsure which body language matches which emotions, The Bookshelf Muse is the best place to start. The thesaurus entries on the sidebar are valuable tools for writers.

Have you used speech mannerisms and body language in your writing? What other forms of communication can writers use?

38 comments:

  1. I've got that book on my nightstand! I love GCL! Good post, and good reminder to show not tell. It really ramps up the story when we know the characters through mannerisms.

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  2. I love the idea of speech mannerisms. I have one character that always uses terms of endearment instead of names. :) that sort of happened by accident.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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  3. I'm like you, I'm much better at writing about body language.

    Also, I've just realised that, in spite of being a 41 year old English woman, I speak to my family as though I were a valley girl (or valley old lady!). As well as saying 'like' a lot, my speech is peppered with 'and she was all..you know...' I really wonder where that came from!

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  4. You don't want to overdo the body language, though. Sometimes it's best to let the conversation flow.

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  5. I love to use the speech stuff (and nicknames)--my Cozy MC is Cam, but there is a recurring character who insists on calling her Cammi and her dad calls her Sunshine--then she has a brother-in-law who avoids talking--usually communicates in mono-syllables. The BODY stuff, though, I have a harder time with. I think I listen better than I watch, so I have a limited repertoire. Good reminder!

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  6. I LOVE "Writing Magic"! It was one of my first reads when I got back into writing; Levine is so clear-cut about the writing process and creating your own fictional world. I recommend the book to any creative writer out there. Great read, Julie!

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  7. I love using the speech mannerisms. (I had a blog post on this a while back.) If you have seven different characters say the same sentence, each one of them should have a specific way of saying it, depending on their peronality and how they talk.

    In my latest book published, I had quite a few characters and it was fun seeing the different ways each of them acted and spoke. Use of names/nickname was important--the mother in the family NEVER used nicknames for her daughters; she always used the full names. (That was kind of fun, because there are six daughters and they all have names from Greek mythology. At least I learned how to spell Cassiopeia without mixing up all the vowels!)

    Body language is just a important--it's always interesting to see if my characters have a certain physical habit--playing with their hair, pinching the bridge of their nose, fiddling with whatever they're holding--on top of finding ways to have a character communicating through their actions.

    There are just so many ways to enhance our stories, and everyone does it differenty--it's really cool to see all of the different styles people have and the ways each writer goes about this.

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  8. So important to distinguish between the voices of the different characters. Something else? Hmm... Sometimes one person's thoughts/dialogue might be anxious or high energy so for example I might make the sentence structure more fragmented or shorter.

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  9. Yes... I have used speech mannerisms a little bit. I like the idea that few characters can have speech distinctions and can be identified by the way they speak.

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  10. Yes! I love to add character to my characters by giving them nervous habits or phrases they say often. It gives a character voice!

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  11. I love using body language but I've got to try more speech mannerisms, love that!

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  12. good stuff, Julie! I use body language, like you, but I've only ventured just a touch into verbal cues. I'd like to do it more, but it's sort of a tricky thing. I don't want to be too distracting with it. But it's great when done well~ :o) <3

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  13. In both speech and writing, I tend to start sentences with "Well," "You know," "Anyway," "So," etc. I really need to go through in editing and make sure they don't pop up for everyone! And my kids are Zachary and Jacob, so yeah, I know all about the long name/short name uses!
    erica

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  14. The Bookshelf Muse is an excellent resource! I've been trying to improve this area of writing. I read body language really well - it's a survival skill for teachers - so I'm enjoying incorporating it into the story :)

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  15. Great post, Julie. I think good books will have some amount of body language whether it's intentional or not. But I do think people have to be careful that not all of their characters portray the same mannerisms, because that's not realistic.

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  16. I had a friend that seemed to start every sentence with, "Quite frankly..." It drove me nuts. You bring up some great ideas to add layers onto our characters. *clears throat* *rubs chin with right index finger* *fluffs bangs*

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  17. Great idea on the speech mannerisms! Poor grammar can be a mannerism, too, as can the habit of ending every sentence (including statements) in a question.

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  18. Thanks for these tips, and the suggested reading titles.

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  19. I'm still working on the speech stuff...

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  20. Always do, use myself and watch people around me. :0)

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  21. You're the third person who has mentioned that book. I suppose I better put it on my list. Great post btw!

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  22. I'm intrigued with body language. I never heard the term "speech mannerisms." I like that. Some people trail off at the end of their sentences. Some have a nervous laugh when they talk. This is a good post, and I'll pay more attention to speech mannerisms from now on!

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  23. The Bookshelf Muse entries are the best! I don't remember where the advice came from, but I remember being told that if you have to name the emotion, you're not showing it, and I've found that an incredibly useful guide ever since. I should never have to say a character's angry. It should be obvious!

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  24. I think using speech mannerisms and body language are great and necessary devices for helping us to define our characters. What a great post, Julie! And thank you for the reminder about WRITING MAGIC. I keep meaning to read it.

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  25. Thanks so much, everyone! And apparently some people are unable to add a comment due to some sort of blogging glitch. I don't know how to fix it :(

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and if you want to DM me on Twitter, I'm @juliemusil.

    Thanks!

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  26. I try to add these things in my novels, yep. One speech thing I do is whether someone speaks formally or not. Have not versus haven't, or did not versus didn't. Or saying "gonna" instead of going to.

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  27. I use both! I am an avid student of body language. It was a sort of hobby of mine before I even started writing. I'm crushed that Lie to Me was cancelled, now that show...fascinating! The speech is more of a struggle to add for me, too, but I try:) It's an excellent tool.

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  28. Young people say "like" quite but no matter how many people say they don't. Great post as always!

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  30. That's such a clever way Levine incorporates speech mannerisms.

    Body mannerisms are really important. I always try to see what someone really means by the way they behave more than what they say. I hope I'm able to accomplish that in my manuscripts too.

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  31. This is a GREAT post! When I first wrote my novel, I didn't trust my writing at all. I filled it with adverbs and adjectives to convey the feelings I wanted the reader to feel.

    It's taken me a long time, but I've removed almost all of those and now use only body language, mannerisms and dialogue to convey what I want the reader to feel.

    It's so much clearer now and doesn't hit the reader over the head.

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  32. Since I'm finishing a re-write of Pride and Prejudice, I had to learn Regency speech patterns. This is where the whole "writers read" axiom really comes into play, because how else could I learn to talk like someone who died nearly 200 years ago? I listened to Pride and Prejudice on my iPhone so I could actually hear what the dialogue sounded like.

    Odd side effect? I occasionally use Regency speech patterns myself.

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  33. Thanks for the reminder that I need to work on both of these! :)

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  34. Some good stuff here about writing speech. It's so easy to get it wrong. My common mistake is to use the same mannerisms for more than one character. Thanks for the link. I'm heading over to the Bookshelf Muse now.

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  35. sometimes I find it hard to paint the picture without telling..great ideas as always.

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  36. Speech mannerisms sound like an interesting idea, although I think that one would need to pay close attention to not overdoing it. If done right, it could be interesting and even useful.

    If repeated too often, I think it could irritate the will to read out of people.

    :-)

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  37. Julie, thanks for sharing The Bookshelf Muse. What a gold mine for writers! Enjoyed your post and learning about Levine's book, Writing Magic. I've read two of her books, and she can do so well what she advises in your examples.

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