Describing People Part Three: Gestures, Expressions and Mannerisms

This is the last in this little series and, in some ways, is probably the hardest to work with. We’ve already looked at describing faces, but here are some things to think about to take your descriptions to the next level.

First, let’s think about expressions. Facial expressions can be written about in general terms using words like grimace, frown, smile, grin, but when we use these words we’re not really showing the emotion. Some of the time you can use these types of words and they work well, but there are times when we need to take this to a higher plane.

So let’s look at a few common ones, how we can take description to the next level and these tips will help you with other expressions.

Frown: What happens to the forehead when someone frowns? Does it crinkle? What happens to the eyebrows and the skin between them? What happens to the eyes? What happens to the mouth?

Very attractive, Mr Gibson!

So instead of writing ‘he/she frowned’ consider ‘his/her forehead furrowed and the eyebrows hooded over eyes that blazed with consternation. His/her lips tightened, turning down at the ends’. Looking at it as a reader, what sounds more interesting?

Smile: What happens to the eyes? What happens to the mouth? Is any other part of the face affected?

So instead of writing ‘he/she smiled’ consider ‘his/her eyes sparkled, crinkling around the edges, mouth upturned revealing dimples in the cheeks’

Puzzled: Again, think about the different parts of the face. What happens to them when someone looks puzzled?

So instead of writing ‘puzzled’ consider ‘his/her eyes rolled upwards as if seeking answers from above and his/her teeth clasped around their bottom lip’

If you have trouble picturing what happens to different elements of the face during a particular expression, try this: stand in front of a mirror and think about something that will make your face contort into the expression. Now look at your face one part at a time. Start at the top and work your way down, noting down how each feature behaves. As with my previous posts on Describing People, type the information into a spreadsheet or other file for future reference.

If you want to use words to convey emotion (as in frown, smile etc) here’s a link to Daily Writing Tips for a list of 100 facial expressions and what they depict. http://www.dailywritingtips.com/100-words-for-facial-expressions/

 

Although some people might argue gestures and mannerisms are the same thing, I beg to differ. To me, gestures are the way people use their bodies to emphasise what they are saying. Mannerisms are things they tend to do unconsciously and can often give away their true feelings. This is why I have split them into two sections.

Let’s move on to gestures. If you can get in the habit of watching people when they are talking, you can pick up a vast array of gestures to add to your ever-growing list. Here are one or four examples:

Shrugging the shoulders – this is a classic one, but can work very well. People do this, often without realising they are.

Gesticulating with hands – lots of people use their hands when they talk as a way to emphasise what they are saying. Just imagine a fisherman talking about something they caught and using their hands to show/exaggerate how big it was (or the one that got away, lol). Another time people use their hands a lot is when they are excited.

The One That Got Away?

People cup their chin in one or both hands for a variety of reasons. They might be pensive, fed up, sad or even daydreaming, so this gesture can be used in a variety of settings.

Rubbing the back of the neck – people don’t only do this to ease aches and pains, they sometimes do it when they’re stressed, worried or if something frightening or awesome makes the fine hairs on the neck stand up.

Mannerisms are things we all do unconsciously. Sometimes they are things we’ve seen our parents do when we were children and mimicked them, sometimes they are movements we’ve developed on our own. I know I’ve ‘inherited’ a mannerism of my dad’s, but it was only fairly recently I realised it was something I did too; it’s a certain way I place fingers on my face when I’m concentrating or reading.

Some people rub their nose or pull on their ear lobe when they tell lies. They don’t realise they do it and that it gives them away.

Some people rub their thumb against their first two fingers on the same hand. Perhaps they do this when they are anxious or upset.

I know someone whose tongue peeps between their lips when they concentrate. Some people drum their fingers when impatient and some people chew on their pens when they are thinking.

 

A final thought for you to consider: Body language is used to good effect every single day of our lives, whether we realise it or not – like tilting your head to the side when listening to someone speak, for example. All these descriptions and more can be added to our writing to give our characters more depth, more believable, more real. Never forget, you need your readers to connect with your characters and they can’t if you don’t give them something tangible they can relate to!

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and found it useful. If nothing else, if it’s provoked a few neurons to fly around and fire a synapsis or two in the brain then this has achieved what I set out to do.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on this and the rest of the series!

Be Prepared To Be Amazed

A couple of months ago, I was asked by my good friend, J. R. Wagner, to write a guest post for his blog. I came up with the idea of writing about inspiration and where I get some of mine from and would like to share this with you:

Writers are often asked where they get their inspiration from and every one of us has our own sources.

I write Fantasy. My love affair with this genre began when I was quite young and has continued through the years. It began with stories written by Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm and grew from there. I was the proverbial bookworm as a child and nothing has really changed.

I was inspired by the wonderful worlds created by the books I read and began composing my own short stories and fairy tales before my age reached double figures. That inspiration has stayed with me, but these days I find inspiration in a number of different ways.

People watching can provide a rich source for creativity. Whether you’re on a bus or plane, sitting in a café, shopping or just walking down the street, there are some amazing characters around that you can incorporate into your writing. It might be the way someone walks, the way they dress, their mannerisms or even their turn of phrase. Sometimes a line from a song can trigger inspiration as well as films, novels (of course), conversations and new places.

Going somewhere new will usually prove a source of inspiration, but where you go can have a dramatic effect on you. This can best be demonstrated by a short mid-week break I took back in September to Dublin. Apart from being a fantastic city to visit, with lovely friendly inhabitants, not to mention the rich literary heritage, the folklore of the country is fascinating.

Everyone has heard of leprechauns and they are synonymous with the Irish. They are portrayed as little men dressed in green, carrying a wonky walking stick and hiding their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. On my trip I decided to find out a little more about them and visited the National Leprechaun Museum. What an ear-opener.

There was a great deal more to the museum than just leprechauns; during the visit, a guide told the tourists other tales about the Sidhe (pronounced Shee), the fairies of the land. A large map – showing the country and some of the ancient place names – was used to tie together tales of adventure, great battles and betrayals. It was a veritable smorgasbord of inspiration. I even bought a book about the Sidhe from the gift shop.

I have so many story ideas from this four day trip it will keep me going for a good couple of years!

Inspiration can come in so many guises and usually when you least expect it, so be prepared to be amazed wherever you go.

For writers: where does your inspiration come from?

For readers: what inspires you in your favourite books?

I’d love to read your comments!

Voyage of Discovery

A couple of months ago, I was honoured to be asked to write a guest post for my dear friend, Alison DeLuca. When I asked her what I should write about, she suggested I write about how I felt when I finished my novel, Heart Search. So I did and now I’d like to share it with you.

I have made a real voyage of discovery. It took me nine months, three hundred and twenty nine pages, one hundred and fifty thousand four hundred and forty one words and at the end of it was my first completed novel!

“Heart Search : Lost”, the first book in the “Heart Search” trilogy was nothing short of a labour of love. It was my first real attempt at a full-length novel and like a lot of writers starting out, I really wasn’t sure I had the ability/imagination/skill to write more than short stories. In addition, I had doubts that anything I wrote would be worth another person’s time and effort to read.

I’d had the idea for the novel (it was only going to be one at the start) buzzing around in my head for a couple of months before I committed to trying to write anything. The more I thought about the possible plots, the more the characters began to grow in my mind and in my heart. I knew I had to tell their tale – it was too important to them not to – and so I began creating it in September 2010.

After planning my characters and story synopsis, I plotted the first twelve chapters and began the story. As I started tapping away on my keyboard, something strange happened – the story took on a life all its own. It was like I was a channel for the words that just appeared as if from nowhere. The chapter plot went out the window and I had no option but to just flow with the current. The story took me in directions I hadn’t considered and it all seemed to work, even though I had two stories running parallel to each other; one written in first person, the other in third.

My daughter kept nicking my laptop every time I put it down,  reading what I’d written then pestering me endlessly to write the next bit. She was hooked and it was then I realised that maybe I was good at this and other people might like it too.

As the story progressed, I was surprised to find how connected I became to my two main characters, how inextricably linked we were and I shared their emotions; when they laughed, I laughed, when they cried, I cried too. They were part of me. So, when I had to take a three-month break to move house, Remy and Joshua (my two protagonists) were screaming at me on a daily basis to get back to writing. When I did, there was no stopping me and at precisely 1.40am on Tuesday 26th October 2011, I finished typing the final sentence.

I sat there, stunned. I had done it – I’d completed my first novel! Then the euphoria hit. I punched the air and shouted “YES!!!” waking my daughter in the process (oops). I had a smile that wouldn’t quit for days afterwards and I felt like I was walking on fluffy white clouds. It was such an amazing feeling of accomplishment and, dammit, I was proud of myself! I was so hyped that night, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep for ages, but apart from posting my glorious news on Twitter and Facebook, I honestly can’t remember what else I did. Even though this was nearly four months ago and I’ve competed in NaNoWriMo since then (and won), the electric tingly buzz of pure joy hasn’t left me. The only time in my life I’ve ever felt joy of a similar magnitude, was the day I gave birth to my wonderful daughter!

I’m so happy and proud of my achievement, I would like to share an excerpt from “Heart Search : Lost” with you. I hope you like it.

“His hiding place was perfect; darkness surrounded and comforted him and he became one with it. He had chosen well. The ancient ruins were totally hidden by overgrown shrubs and trees. From this place, he could venture out before dusk, completely obscured by the dense canopy of the ancient trees; the sun struggled to break through even at midday.

He was close, closer than ever before, so close that the flavour of the human’s essence coated his sensitive tongue. The one sought was nearby – he could sense him. He had searched for a very long time to find someone this special. Sure he’d found talent along the way, but this one, this human was something else entirely.

The excitement was building inside like a volcano preparing to erupt. His tongue ran over his teeth; venom pooled in his mouth and he savoured the flavour. There would be a new flavour to add to it soon. Very soon.

 

He first detected the scent two days ago. Unfortunately, an opportunity had not presented itself and he had become frustrated to the point of anger as strategy after strategy was thwarted by the most stupid and pointless of reasons. He was tenacious when there was something he desired and right now there was nothing he desired more than this human. There was a plentiful supply around to quench his thirst – that was not his aim.

His reverie was interrupted – a familiar scent wafted on the air that permeated the shelter. It was the human – the one he sought – and so near, too near to be allowed to escape again. Once more venom collected in his mouth.

He moved swiftly through the darkness with perfect vision towards the exit hidden amongst the foliage. The closer he got to the outside, the stronger the scent, and the more eager he became.

It was time.”

I’ve been through the long process of revising and editing and to be honest I wasn’t fazed by it at all. I know that my manuscript has become stronger, more polished and I have given my characters even more depth. My novel is now in the hands of a beta reader; she is senior editor at a publishing company in the USA so I really trust her judgement (she has told me already that she loves the story, so that’s a real boost to my confidence!). I can’t wait to get her critique to see how I can improve it even further and to find out if she takes to my two main characters. After all, if it wasn’t for Remy and Joshua taking up residence in my head and heart, this story might not have been written at all.

I’d love to read your comments on the excerpt of Heart Search and my Voyage of Discovery, so please tell me what you think!

February Free Fiction

In my last post, I made a pledge to blog more for readers, particularly those who aren’t writers. So, with this in mind, I thought I’d share a short story that I wrote in July 2011. I’ve updated and improved it in the last couple of days so I really hope you enjoy it.

 

Uninvited

 

Jasmine stared out the window, marvelling at the breathtaking scenery flying past. This was her first major trip alone and she was so excited. As the sun began to set behind the distant hills, the colours streaking across the sky brought tears to her eyes. She had never seen anything so exquisite.

As night fell, Jasmine got ready for bed. She pulled the hidden bunk from the wall and climbed under the covers. It was surprisingly luxurious and with the rocking motion of the train, she was soon asleep.

A whispering voice woke Jasmine sometime later. She lay in the dark, disoriented and confused. She listened carefully for the voice she thought she heard but the only noticeable sound was that of the rails on the track. Believing she had dreamt it, she closed her eyes and was soon asleep once more.

Less than thirty-minutes later, more whispering awaked Jasmine. The voice did not disappear this time and lying on her bunk, she strained to decipher the words. The voice had an ethereal quality that she had never heard before yet for some unfathomable reason, she wasn’t afraid.

She reached out and pulled the light cord above her head, flooding the room with dazzling brightness. Blinking furiously to accustom her eyes, she noted the voice had disappeared. Her eyes swept the roomette yet nothing had changed. She shook her head, turned off the light and, just as she was about to close her eyes the voice started up again, only louder.

“Help me! Please help me! I’m going to die!”

Jasmine froze. Not only was the voice clearer, it was closer. The phrases repeated over and over, in a plaintive voice, like a litany. Slowly Jasmine reached her hand towards the direction of the sound; she felt something icy cold and filmy brush against her fingers and she jerked back, a squeal of fear slipping from her lips.

The voice hushed at the sound. Jasmine lay unmoving for several minutes as she calmed her thundering heart. She propped herself up on her elbow and tried to peer through the inky blackness to see what had startled her, but nothing was visible.

Suddenly several deafening crashes reverberated around the confined space, like someone, or something, was pounding on the walls. Jasmine pulled her knees up towards her chest and hugged them as she shivered in fear. The pounding came again, louder than before, and then a third time but so loud she had to put her hands over her ears.

The temperature unexpectedly dropped a few degrees and Jasmine could see her exhaled breath form a silvery vapour that swirled around like smoke in a gentle breeze. Now she was extremely frightened. She had seen plenty of horror films and read enough books to be blessed (or cursed, depending on your viewpoint) with quite an active imagination, but this wasn’t a scene from the latest slasher movie or supernatural blockbuster. This was happening right now!

Silence blasted her eardrums almost as effectively as the pounding had. Gradually the temperature, and everything else, returned to normal. Jasmine remained curled into a tight ball for many minutes, nervously waiting for something else to occur. All was quiet. Soon her muscles began to relax and she slowly stretched herself along the length of the bunk.

Jasmine’s eyelids grew heavy as the swaying motion of the train lulled her towards sleep. Her lashes fluttered as she yawned, but just before her eyes shut, she heard what sounded like sharp fingernails dragging across a chalkboard. Her eyes snapped open as the noise set her teeth on edge. She climbed down from the bunk and moved towards the window where the excruciatingly annoying din appeared to be coming from. She reached a trembling hand forward and yanked the blind with such force it continued to revolve after it hit the end stop.

Looking back at her through the glass was the face of a young man. She staggered back in shock, fell over her feet, landed on her rear and screamed.

His face was sad as he stared back at her. It was battered and had what appeared to be blood caked to the side where the skull caved in. Recovering from the shock, Jasmine arose and approached the glass. She put her hand flat against the window, her hazel eyes sad, and mouthed, “I’m sorry.” The man put his hand up to hers and smiled gently before vanishing into the night.

Removing her hand, she could have wondered if she was dreaming, except for one thing – a smudged handprint on the other side of the pane.

 

Jasmine couldn’t resist chuckling, when at breakfast she heard a couple animatedly discussing a story about the train being haunted by a boy who had been murdered on it twenty years before.

* * * * *

I’d really love to know what you think of this – please feel free to comment or critique!

 

Blogging For Readers

I was reading a blog post earlier today and a lady commented that every writer’s blog she reads tends to focus on other writers and not potential readers. She continued by saying readers are interested in the product not the process and she wished more writers would blog for a reading audience, rather than a writing one.

This got me thinking. Is this something I’m guilty of? Actually – yes. With the exception of guest posts, a large number of my posts have been directed at other writers, especially the more recent ones. I have tried to strike a balance by writing book reviews and featuring them on my blog, but I haven’t done hardly anything to attract readers.

If I’m honest, I’ve looked at what other writers have been doing on their blogs trying to find the secret to their success and how they generate large numbers of followers and, to a degree I’ve tried to emulate them. The majority of them write about writing so that’s what I’ve been doing, but from my own perspective and experience.

I could kick myself!

I’ve spent a great deal of my working life in marketing and the first rule I was ever taught was  ‘put yourself in the shoes of your prospective customer and ask the question, “what’s in it for me?” ‘

My prospective customers are readers so wouldn’t my time be better spent blogging with them in mind? As I want to sell my books, the answer has got to be a resounding, ‘YES’.

I’m so glad I read that lady’s comment earlier, it’s reminded me to apply the same principles I use in my working life to my writing life and I’m going to start writing more posts for readers in future!

 

Describing People, Part Two : From The Neck Down

Following on from Part One, here are some thoughts and tips on things to consider from the neck down.

As before, create a list and look at each body part in isolation. It might be a good idea to have separate lists for male and female as the physical characteristics can differ so greatly. To help with this I’m going to give some ideas for each.

What are the shoulders like?

Female: Are they wide or narrow, slim or chubby, masculine, muscular or delicate?

Male: Are they broad or slim, athletic, muscular, flabby or puny?

Look at the chest. What do you see?

Female: Is she flat-chested? Does she have small breasts, nicely rounded, perky, full, heavy, obviously enhanced and fake or droopy?

Male: Is he pigeon-chested? Is he muscular, flabby, average or does he have moobs?

Moving down to the waist . . .

Female: Is the stomach flat, does it have a slight curve, is it a bit flabby, very fat or does it have a roundness that could indicate pregnancy? Is the waist well defined when you look at her straight on, slightly defined or is there no definition at all? Does it softly curve in (womanly curve) or is it more muscular/athletic?

Male: Does he have a six-pack? Does he have a flat stomach, but without the muscle definition? Is there a ‘beer belly’ or just a little paunch? Is it flabby?

Now for the hip/rear end area:

Female: Are the hips narrow, average or wide (sometimes referred to as ‘child-bearing hips’)? Are they in proportion to the rest of the torso? Now consider the rear – are the buttocks flat and boyish, gently curved or saggy cheeked? Do the buttocks stick out from the base of the spine (Jo-Lo style)? Are the buttocks firm, toned or flabby? Are they grabbable?

Male: Are the hips slim, average or broad? How do they compare with the rest of the body? What is the butt like? Does he have ‘cute buns’? Is the arse big and flabby, flat, protruding, droopy or toned?

Continuing down to the legs –

The legs, ankles and feet can be looked at as a complete package or can be split into 4/5 sections; it very much depends on just how much detail you want to use. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to group all the sections together.

Female: THIGHS – are they toned, flabby, slim or just in need of a bit of exercise to firm around the edges? Can you see any cellulite? KNEES – are they knobbly or fairly flat? Are there any scars visible (perhaps from childhood scrapes)? CALVES – is there much muscle tone? Are they shapely? Are they over-muscled, indicating regular exercise or are they wobbly and mis-shapen? ANKLES – are they slim and attractive or thick like small tree trunks? Do they have a defined shape? FEET – are they small, average or long? Are they slim or wide? Are they fat and overflowing the shoes? Are the toenails neatly trimmed? Are they painted?

Male: THIGHS – are they muscular or over-muscled? Are they skinny or fat?  Do they need toning? KNEES – are they knobbly or smooth? Do they bear evidence of childhood falls and scrapes? Are there any scars from sports-related injuries or operations? Do they disappear under rolls of flab? CALVES – are they toned or too muscular? Are they fat and shapeless? Are they slim? ANKLES – are they skinny and weak or strong? Are they puffy with fluid or chubby? FEET – are they average, small, large or over-large? Are they like small boats? Are they flat and cumbersome?

Finally, let’s take a look at body shape as a whole.

Female: Use these pictures below to help you identify the overall shape of your female character.

Male: The male body shape is much easier to identify as they fall into only 3 main categories. The picture below helps.

Use some of the tips from the first post in this series to embellish on the features you want to include and as before, keep revisiting your list to add descriptive words as you think of them. By the time this series ends, you’ll have a broad information source to design your characters with.