Dictionary of body language? – lessons from my proof reader

I learnt long ago that you can’t proof read your own work. tearinh hair Well, you can, but you’ll miss things that to someone else are obvious.  When you read your own work the brain sees what it expects to see and not necessarily what is on the page.  Also, in my own case, my spelling is so bad I think even Word gives up on me.

Anyway, I have just had the manuscripts for my first two novels, ‘Ancestral Dreams’ and ‘Project Noah’, proof read.   And, as well as throwing up all those niggley things that will drive readers mad, it highlighted a number of ‘quirks’ of my writing.  So I thought I might share some of these over a few blog sessions and seek help / opinion.  After all we can always learn and improve.

The first editorial input I had on ‘Ancestral Dreams’ pointed me towards Elmore Leonard’s ‘10 Rules of Writing’.  In rule 10 ‘Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip’ he mentions that the part readers don’t skip is dialogue.  In my books I include a lot of dialogue.  To me that is part of the old adage ‘show not tell’.  Also, in whatever genre, I think people like to identify with the characters and nothing reveals more about them than what they say.  However, there is also another form of language we use without thinking – ‘body language’ and conveying that on the page throws up more difficulties.

This brings me onto the first quirk my proof reader pointed out – I had a lot of ‘raised eyebrows’ as in:  “Are you sure?” he asked raising his eyebrows. i.e. I’m trying show surprise, not tell you he’s surprised as in: “Are you sure?” he asked, sounding surprised.  When we’re surprised we show it in our faces, don’t we?  Actually, when I think about it, I’m not sure what ‘sounding surprised’ actually sounds like?  PBody languageerhaps I could have used ‘scratching his chin’, but to me that’s more ‘thoughtful’.

I am aware that I also have a lot of ‘head shaking’, ‘nodding’ and ‘shrugging’.  Maybe I got a bit lazy and just used the first description that came into my head?   Perhaps we could do with a dictionary of body language for writers, a list of body and facial expressions and their possible translations?

So send me your favourite body language in written form and what it means (I appreciate there can be more than one meaning depending on circumstance) and if I get enough I’ll put them together in a future blog.

Thanks, Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

If you have a view on this, let me know: