How Character Gestures Can Enrich Your Story | Writer’s Relief

Sep 6, 2023 | Creative Writing Craft and Techniques, Inspiration And Encouragement For Writers, Writing Tips

How Character Gestures Can Enrich Your Story | Writer’s Relief

Shrugs. Twirls a lock of hair. Wipes forehead. When writing a short story or novel, you can use gestures to make your characters’ thoughts and emotions more vivid and realistic. For instance, you can write “they’re sad,” or you can have everyone brushing away tears—which do you find more engaging? The experts at Writer’s Relief know that nonverbal cues can be just as important as what your characters say. Here are some writing tips and advice on how character gestures and body language can enrich your story.

Using Character Gestures To Enrich Your Story

Character gestures and body language will help your readers better visualize the scene in your story. When we communicate in our everyday lives, we don’t just stand still and speak! We might move around or make gestures to indicate our mood or to emphasize what we’re trying to get across to our listener.

Your characters should also use gestures. If you need some inspiration, go to the mall, a coffee shop, or any public place and watch how different people move and gesture. What are these people telling you: The mom who’s pinching the bridge of her nose as her toddler asks the umpteenth question; the person with sagging shoulders recounting their coins; or the guy yawning in the library? Incorporating small gestures here and there will help indicate the mood, character, or setting of your world and make your short story or novel seem more real.

Add To The Mood

When you’re feeling happy, sad, excited, or angry, it often shows in your gestures and actions. Having your characters use similar body language will breathe more life into your story. As the well-known writing adage advises: Show, don’t tell! You want your readers to experience the story through actions and dialogue, rather than through your summary of the events. Consider these examples:

Tiffany was excited when she realized she held the winning ticket.

We know Tiffany had a positive reaction to winning, because the writer told us. But we can make this more meaningful for your reader:

Tiffany quickly raised both hands to her mouth and gasped—she held the winning ticket!

This shows us Tiffany’s surprised, excited reaction. We’ve all reacted in a similar way and can identify with the emotion—and so will your readers.

You might also use an unexpected reaction to reveal how your character feels about the situation:

Tiffany’s shoulders tensed and she lowered her head. She held the winning ticket.

Winning is usually a good thing, but based on her reaction, readers will immediately understand that whatever Tiffany won, she doesn’t want it.

Reveal Subtle Characteristics

Everyone has idiosyncrasies: A nervous person might bite their nails, while someone obsessed with appearances might constantly glance at their reflection. Using gestures is a great way to emphasize a character trait and let your character’s personality sneak into their actions. A seemingly stern accountant might twirl his umbrella as he walks down the street. Your mighty warrior protagonist may nervously recheck her weapons or become too ill to eat before every battle.

Enhance The Setting

Is your world an icy tundra where death lurks at every turn? A character would rub his hands together for warmth and carefully shake snow from his hood. In a sweltering desert, your character will wipe the sweat from her forehead and raise an arm to block the bright glare from her eyes. These small gestures make it easier for readers to envision your setting.

Avoid Overdoing It

Adding gestures will definitely enhance your story and make your characters more real to your readers, but don’t get carried away. You don’t want your characters wildly waving their arms in every other sentence. Instead, use a combination of gestures and direct and indirect characterization to create three-dimensional, full characters who will seem real to your readers.

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Question: How have you used gestures to reveal your character’s personality?