Though I have been a fiction writer for a number of years, I began my career as writing articles for magazine, and since I loved to play around with fiction writing and sold many short stories to magazines, I learned that fiction is a great technique to enhance and create meaning for writing articles.
First of all we need hooks in any kind of writing, and most everyone enjoys a good story. The information in this post not only demonstrates how fiction is effective in non-fiction articles but if you write fiction, it can assist you in learning how to use body language to enhance your characterization.
Here is an article that was published many years ago in numerous magazines:
Talking Without Words
What’s wrong with you, man?” Derek asked Brad in the school cafeteria. From his expression, Derek knew that Brad was angry.
“I can’t believe I got a detention. My folks’ll be bugged; I’ll probably be grounded — and I didn’t do anything.”
“Huh? Why would ya get a detention, if you didn’t do anything?”
“That’s what I wanna know.” Brad sat for a moment as if reviewing what happened. “Mr. Brownley passed back our math tests, and I got a D. I don’t see how I could get a D, but I just took the paper without saying anything. Then, he gave me a detention.”
“Hey man, there’s got to be more to it than that. Show me; I’ll be Mr. Brownley.”
Derek took a piece of paper from his notebook and handed it to Brad. Brad jerked the paper from his hand, looked at it, wadded it up, and pitched it, like a basketball, into a trash container. Then he folded his arms across his chest and stared at Derek. “That’s all I did,” he said.
Derek shook his head. “You better do that in front of a mirror, pal. I think you’ll see why you got the detention.”
Brad had communicated a lot to Mr. Brownley without using words. It is often through actions — called body language — that you get in trouble or cause yourself problems. More than half of communication comes from non-verbal responses. The words you say are not nearly as meaningful as the tone, inflection, and the body language you use when we say the words. These non-verbal messages say what you really mean. So it is important that you become aware of your body language, so that you present yourself to others in a positive way.
So what kinds of non-verbal talking causes you trouble? There are actually five ways you communicate without speaking: silence, posture and gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and space (meaning closeness or distance).
It seems odd that silence can cause a problem, but think about it. If your parent asks you a question — why you did or didn’t do something, for example, and your response is silence, your parent becomes angry. Your mom or dad asked a question and expects an answer. The same holds true for a teacher, principal, or anyone in authority. Silence can mean that you don’t know, or it says you are guilty, angry, belligerent, or uncooperative.
Next your posture and gestures can cause problems. Just like Brad’s angry behavior, anger is shown in the quickness and abruptness of your body response. If you slam doors or drawers or if you pound your fist, you make a loud statement. By crumbling up his math paper and tossing it in the wastebasket, Brad was telling the teacher he did not value the teacher’s grading or the mathematics assignment. Throwing his hands in the air or making a fist are only a couple of way you show a negative response.
Along with gestures, posture shows your attitude and your mood. It reflects if you are confidence or lacking confidence. Walking with your head hung down looking at the ground causes people to think you are uncomfortable, angry, or perhaps, that you do not have self-esteem. Walking tall with your back straight and your head held high shows you are confident with yourselves, and people are more confident with you.
Along with your posture and gestures, your face also tells a great deal about how you feel and what you think. Just as Derek saw anger in Brad’s face, you also express sadness, happiness, disappointment, fear, and confusion with your facial expression. Brad’s face probably showed anger—his facial muscles tightened and his eyes squinted—when Mr. Brownley returned the test. Brad would have accomplished more by keeping calm, asking his teacher if they could discuss the test paper after class. Instead using only angry body language, he received a detention. Sometimes, trying to cover your true feelings, you say one thing but want to say something else. Your words and expressions do not match — you say yes with your words, but your face says no. This sends a mixed messages to others which can cause confusion or frustration, and, again, you will not receive a positive reactions from others.
Eyes also send messages. They reflect goodness and badness. Eyes show emotions. For example, when you look in the eyes of that special person in your life, you see the emotion of love. Eyes are indicators of your self-confidence also. Direct eye contact helps you to appear confidence and assured; if you avoid looking into someone’s eyes, you seem unsure or disinterested.
Finally, space — your closeness or distance from someone — says something too. Notice when you are interested in a conversation, a class lecture, or you agree with what someone says, you lean forward. You show approval of what they say by your physical nearness to them. If someone is having a problem, you communicate your sympathy by putting your arm around the person or placing your hand on your friend’s shoulder. You do not need to say words; your meaning is clear. If you like a guy or girl, notice how you move toward the person. If you don’t care for that person, you pull back or move away. By turning from someone, even in the subtlest way, you send the message that you disagree or you don’t want to hear what is being said. Similarly when Brad folded his arms across his chest, he are putting a barrier between himself and the teacher.
It is clear that negative body language can cause trouble. Brad and his detention is a good illustration of that. But there is another way body language can cause negative results. For example, you are passing a guy or girl in the school corridor that you find attractive, but you are not sure how the person feels about you. By using positive body language—good posture, direct eye contact, and a smile on your face, you will get attention more quickly than shyly walking past the person staring at the floor. Walking into a room of strangers even if you are nervous, keep your shoulders back and head high. People will be more interested in you, if you walk into the room with confidence.
By being aware of what your non-verbal communication shows, you will be better able to control the message that you send to others. If you want to reflect friendship and a cheerfulness, keep your body language positive. Remember that more than half of what you say is seen — not heard. You do a lot of talking without words.
I hope you can see how the story helped enhance the article on body language, and I think you can see how using body language to reflect your characters’ attitudes and moods is to “show” instead of “tell.”