Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

Shonna Slayton — 

Once again I am delighted to introduce Margie Lawson as our January Guest Blogger. She is here to teach us More Secrets to Writing Irresistible Fiction…and she’s brought another give-away!

More Secrets to Writing Irresistible Fiction

 Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

By Margie Lawson

A whopping 93% of all communication messages are nonverbal.

Anywhere and everywhere — only 7% of the communication can be attributed to the words.

We are always communicating.  There’s no OFF button.

What’s the implication for writers?  The odds are good that writers need more nonverbals on the page.  They need more subtext to qualify and deepen the interactions.

margie lawson 2Body language includes:

HAPTICS communication by touch

KINESICS – communicating by body movement

PROXEMICS – communicating by body positioning

TELLS – unconscious signals that communicate anxiety, aversion, and deception

GESTURE TYPES –  movement of arms and hands associated with speech

DIALOGUE CUES – how writers inform readers how the dialogue was delivered

FACIAL EXPRESSIONS – include eyes, eyebrows, lips, mouth, jaw, forehead, full face, and flicker-face

BLOG GUESTS:  Wish I could cover all those topics in the blog today.  I’d need to fill several hundred pages . . . like I have in my on-line courses and Lecture Packets.

 

TODAY – I’ll share examples of Dialogue Cues and Facial Expressions.

 

Dialogue Cues

I coined the term DIALOGUE CUES (DC) to describe the phrases and sentences that  inform the reader how the dialogue was delivered.  Dialogue Cues share the SPEED, TONE, QUALITY, VOLUME, and PITCH.

Writers need to consider the EMOTIONAL SET of their characters, the SETTING, and the SITUATION.  Those three dynamics impact the SPEED, TONE, QUALITY, VOLUME, and PITCH of dialogue.

Let’s check out how authors capture Dialogue Cues on the page.

Here are some DIALOGUE CUES from HARLAN COBEN’s 2009 release, Long Lost (Myron Bolitar).  For this section – I selected dialogue cues that all speak to TONE.

1.  I expected Jack to give an “awww, Mom,” but maybe he heard something in her tone too.

2.  I had thought about the strange tone in his voice, near panic.

3.  “Must be divine,” Win said in a voice richly marinated in sarcasm.

“Oh, it’s nothing special,”  Paintball said, not picking up on Win’s tone.

4.  I was about to crack wise—something like “tell all your friends” or “sigh, another satisfied customer”—but something in her tone made me pull up.  Something in her tone overwhelmed me and made me ache. I squeezed her hand and stayed silent and then I watched her walk away.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Note the Stimulus and Response pattern above.

 

5.  I made eye contact with the man I’d fought with in Paris. I kept my tone even, controlled.

 

DIALOGUE CUES – From The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel, by DAVID WROBLEWSKI.

 

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY:

It took David Wroblewski fourteen years to write THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE.  During that fourteen years, David earned an MFA, and quit writing for over a year.  He thought the book would never be fit to be published.

When he returned to writing, he reviewed his 500+ pages of his INCOMPLETE BOOK – and went back and switched it from 3rd person to 1st person POV.  It took him over two months to complete that POV switcheroo.

He spent another few years finishing and polishing the book.  He queried literary agents – pitching his 770 page manuscript.  He got an agent.  He got a contract.

Oprah liked his book.  She selected it for her book club.  WOW!

THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE resided at the top, #1, or near the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for over a year.

Here are some of David Wroblewski’s dialogue cues.

1.  Ida didn’t hold out her hands or come around the counter, nor was there a grandmotherly note in her voice.  If anything her tone was incurious and weary, though benign.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Showing what wasn’t happening (above). A powerful technique I cover in DEEP EDITING.

2.  “I’ll stay here,” he calls back. The wind makes his voice tinny and small.

3.  Something in the sound of her voice made Edgar’s legs go weak.

4.  Then his mother was calling, “Edgar! Edgar!”  Her voice toylike and shrunken.

5.  “How did he know?” she said. She took a tremulous breath. Tears spilled onto her cheeks. She began to walk toward the porch, hands fisted at her side. Then her strides lengthened and she was running and her voice rose to a wail, asking the same question over and over.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Lots of EMOTIONAL HITS in the example above.  The Dialogue Cue was slipped in to add power.

 

DIALOGUE CUES from Black Out, by LISA UNGER:

1.  I snap back to the conversation and listen for signs of skepticism in her voice.  But there’s just her usual light and musing tone, the wide-open expression on her face.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Contrasting what wasn’t happening to what was happening.

2.  His tone has shifted from friendly and chatty to slightly more serious. He has stopped nodding and smiling and has fixed me with his gaze.

3.  I kept my voice flat and unemotional. I didn’t want him to know my heart—how afraid I was, how much I needed him.

4.  “You promised me,” I said, my voice sounding childish even to my own ears.

QUICK ANALYSIS:   POV character describes own voice (above).

5.  Gray’s gaze keeps shifting back and forth between me and his father.  “Are you telling me he was there?  Marlowe Geary?  That she killed him?  His voice is a hard edge, tight with emotion; his fists are clenched at his side.

 

Dialogue Cues from SUSAN WIGGS’s historical, Halfway To Heaven.

  1. The man said a word Abigail had never heard before, though his furious tone made her blush.
  2. His tone indicated a decided lack of interest.
  3. His tone was mild enough, but she knew his every nuance. A subtle censure edged his words.
  4. “I loved him with all that I was,” the princess said, her voice taking on a tone of confession.
  5. Though she spoke beautifully, there was a subtle undercurrent to her tone that Abigail disliked.

 

The examples below are from DONNA DALTON’S release, The Cavalry Wife, from The Wild Rose Press, 2007.  I chose all tone examples for this section.

  1. I may just let you have her. (IN ITALICS)He was joking, of course. Yet something pinched. His tone. The quickness of the remark, as thought the thought was already formed.
  2. A cold bite laced his forceful tone. Will ignored the warning.
  3. His unreadable expression and even tone revealed little of his mood.
  4. The Indian chief narrowed his eyes and studied her as though looking for some sign of deception. When he spoke, his tone was a stiff mixture of skepticism and expectation.
  5. The brave jabbed his flag-draped branch in the air and spoke in his deep, guttural tongue. Though he didn’t understand the words, Chase understood the tone.  Forceful and unrelenting. His gut knotted.

QUICK ANALYSIS:   Powerful use of Stimulus/Response, including a visceral response.


Looks and Gazes and Glances and Facial Expressions

 

C.J. Box, Three Weeks to Say Goodbye

1.  Garrett looked at me blankly. Something in his eyes disturbed me.  It was as if he saw me as someone who couldn’t possibly understand him, and I was not worth an explanation.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Fresh and amplified interpretation of a look.

2.  Then he smiled outright, and something danced behind his eyes.  I felt a chill roll down my back.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Stimulus/Response

3.  And I caught the “See?  What did I tell you?” look Garrett gave Luis after she was gone.

4.  He locked eyes with me, and I felt a chill that made the hair on my arms rise.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Stimulus/Response

5. On the sidewalk, he paused, and I caught up with him.  I’d never seen him so furious.  The skin of his face was pulled back, slitting his eyes and making his mouth a snarl.

 

Brad Meltzer, The Book of Lies

1.  On my left my father stares at Ellis, then Timothy, then back at Ellis.

Then he looks at me.

I see desperation every day. For the homeless, it overrides despair, depression, even    fear.  But when my dad’s wide eyes beg for help . . . I’ve seen that look before—all those years ago when the cops came and they arrested him.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Using an amplified internalization about a look – to slip in backstory.  Powerful.

2.  To be honest, I thought my dad was bullshitting when he said he didn’t know what was in the truck, but from the confusion on his face, this is news to him.

3.  Most people turn away when you ask them a hard question. Serena continues to look straight at me, and her yellow blue eyes . . . I hate to say it . . . there’s a real depth to her stare.

4.  She looks at me in silence for what seems like a full minute.

5.  “And stop giving me that my-boy’s-become-a-man-look!”

 

Lisa Unger, Black Out

1.  He barely reacts, but I see a muscle clench in his jaw beneath the shadow of black stubble.

2.  I saw the ugly in him for a second, a dog baring his teen.  Then he softened, turned a sweet smile on my mother.

3.  We’re staring at each other, neither one of us looking away. Finally she smiles. But it’s not a friendly smile; in it I see some combination of malice and pity. My gut lurches a bit. I look away quickly.

4.  Vivian walks over and sits beside me, rests a hand on my leg. I examine her face for signs of judgment and disapproval.  But I just see compassion and worry.  And the shade of something else I can’t quite put my finger on.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Haptics (touch);  sharing what was expected, but didn’t present; included vague expression

5.  I remember his face from last night; he’d seemed nice. Kind and without artifice. I’d liked him. But there’s something else I see in him as I open the door that I don’t like:  suspicion. Today he’s a wolf at my door.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Showed contrast. News of a difference.  Added metaphor of predator.

6. “Detective Harrison,” I say, offering my best fake smile. “Are you checking in on us?  I keep my body in the door frame, careful not to welcome him in with my words or gestures.

QUICK ANALYSIS:  Interprets body language for reader.

7. The detective is looking toward the door now.  He hasn’t seated himself again, stands with his hands in his pockets. He does a little rocking thing, heel to toe, toe to heel. That Cheshire-cat look he had is long gone. He’s a coward, I think. The kind of bully who would corner the skinny kid on a playground, then lift his palms and wider his eyes in mock innocence when the teacher comes.

 

Stephen White, Missing Persons (Alan Gregory)

1. The fire in her eyes, if focused, could have ignited candles across the street.

2. The glare degraded into a face that was merely suspicious.

3. Our gazes failed to connect by about ten degrees. It was as though he were blind, wanted to find my gaze, but couldn’t quite manage to make eye contact.

4. He suddenly shifted his gaze and we locked eyes for a period of time that was about the duration of a solitary flap of a hummingbird’s wings. There, and then gone.

 

HELLO AGAIN!

Now you’ve had a taste of how to write fresh body language and dialogue cues. I dig deep into teaching mode in my lectures. I dissect hundreds of examples and provide detailed analyses.

 

I’ll be back next Tuesday to share more secrets of writing irresistible fiction. Now it’s your turn.

PLEASE CHIME IN!

 

POST A COMMENT – OR A FRESH BODY LANGUAGE OR DIALOGUE CUE FROM YOUR WIP – AND YOU MAY WIN A LECTURE PACKET!

 

I will draw a name for a Lecture Packet, a $22 value, at 9PM Mountain Time. Winners may choose a Lecture Packet from one of my six on-line courses. Lecture Packets are available for all my courses through Paypal from my website, www.MargieLawson.com.

1.  Empowering Characters’ Emotions

2.  Deep Editing:  The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More

3.  Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

4.  Powering Up Body Language in Real Life: Projecting a Professional Persona When Pitching and Presenting

5.  Digging Deep into the EDITS System

6.  Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors

 

Margie Lawson —psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter—developed innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques for writers.

 

Her Deep Editing tools are used by all writers, from newbies to NYT Bestsellers.  She teaches writers how to edit for psychological power, how to hook the reader viscerally, how to create a page-turner.

 

Over four thousand writers have learned Margie’s psychologically-based deep editing material.  In the last five years, she presented fifty-two full day Master Classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

 

Lectures from each of Margie’s on-line courses are offered as Lecture Packets through PayPal from her web site.  For more information on courses, lecture packets, master classes, and 3-day Immersion Master Class sessions, visit:  www.MargieLawson.com .

 

Thank you for joining us today!

 

All smiles…………Margie

www.MargieLawson.com

Shonna Slayton

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Shonna Slayton is the author of the YA novel Cinderella's Dress, a fairy tale set in the 1940s, out June 3, 2014. Visit her website at ShonnaSlayton.com for a short video and to sign up for her newsletter.

39 responses to Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

  1. I did Margie’s Writing Body Language course last year and it is fabulous. I now find myself studying people’s body language in meetings. Very interesting. Now to write it fresh…

  2. Wow! I love the Stephen White quotes. Your examples are so clear and demonstrative. I’m on my second manuscript since I’ve begun studying your packets, and I see my writing has improved dramatically. Thanks, Margie!

  3. What a great way to start the morning, Margie! These passages have inspired me. Here’s a clip from my writing:

    “Excuse me,” she said, again. This time she didn’t sound the least bit sorry. “Do I know you? Oh, never mind. It doesn’t matter. I have an appointment to get to and I’m already late for it.” She dragged in a deep breath. “Unhand me.”
    ~Neptune’s Lair from Whispers Publishing

  4. Diana at

    Margie, I have learned so much from you. When I read, I’m more aware of fresh writing and pause to see how the writer does it. I’m working to infuse more of it into my writing, and I can see an improvement. Thanks.

  5. Hi Margie,
    As always, I love your insight, classes and always learn. I’ll be in this spring’s body language class. :) To me, another step toward my goal of becoming a NYT Best-Selling Author. Have a fabulous day, and my sincere thanks for everything! *Hugs*

    Diana Cosby
    Romance Edged With Danger

  6. Great post Margie. You give us more freshness than a vegetable garden.

  7. Margie,
    Thanks for the wonderful examples of dialogue cues. I especially liked, “Must be divine,” Win said in a voice richly marinated in sarcasm. Harlan Coben really knows his DC’s.
    p.s. your “Defeating Self Defeating Behaviors” is an awesome class. I am in it right now, and all I can say, is, W0W!

  8. Tracy Mastaler at

    Hi Mar-G,

    Great post! Love all of the examples you give from a variety of voices and genres. Shows that, no matter what we write, we can write fresh!

    Even though I had the pleasure of taking your first Master Immersion Class in Colorado last year (enroll now if you want to truly add spice to your writing repertoire!,it is always great to have an expert refresher. Thanks for being a blog guest!

    Tra-C :)

  9. Laurie at

    Margie,

    These examples and your analysis were great! Just reading them showed me ways I can power up my own writing. Thank you for the post!

    Laurie

  10. Laura Drake at

    This subject is especially timely for me, Margie. I’m plotting my next women’s fiction novel, and I’m intimidated by the heavy emotion in it. The nuances in the texts you’ve cited make me realize that I CAN do this!

  11. Ginger Duran at

    Margie–another terrific lesson–I’ve learned so much from your courses! I’m a better writer as a result.

  12. Kat Sheridan at

    Wonderful examples, and it looks like lots to be learned here! Here’s a sample of my own:

    “Speak to me!” His voice was as dark as the rest of him; his roar rivaled the thunder echoing off the peaks surrounding this shadowed hall.

  13. Theresa H at

    These are wonderful examples. I just finished LONG LOST, and Coben pulls you right in from the start. These make me rethink how my characters move. Thank you!

  14. Margie, this was wonderful! I always need these refreshers. Here’s an example from my WIP:

    His voice, loud and clear with anger and arrogance, carried to Lila like slaps to her ears.

  15. mcrowley41 at

    Margie: This stuff is priceless! Thanks so much for all the clues. They are as wonderful as your workshops.

    Margaret
    COFW

  16. Charlotte Maclay/Carter at

    Hi Margie, Great info as always! Learning to create emotional hits helped me sell my heart-transplant story. Thanks!
    w/a Charlotte Carter, Montana Hearts, Steeple Hill, 12/10

  17. Helpful to see it all together. This gives me some good ideas. Thanks.

  18. Julie Breese at

    WOW, WOW, WOW! What great examples! When I’m writing dialogue I always end up writing notes to myself, like, “she needs to sound breathless.” This was all very helpful and the examples showed so many different ways that you can communicate.

    Thanks again!
    Julie

  19. Courtney Powell at

    Great info Marggie! I am going to have to take this class in May!

    -Heat flushed her skin a dappled red, like the fall ripened apples.

    -Courtney

  20. Stacy McKitrick at

    I think it’s funny I stumbled across this site today. I was just thinking I needed to learn more body language so I could write it effectively. Thanks for some of the tips!

  21. I always look forward to your examples, Margie, and can’t read Harlan Coben without sending silent thanks to you for turning me on to him.
    Take care.

  22. Theresa G. at

    Thanks again, Margie! I find my characters using the same motions over and over again. Now that I’m done with the rough draft and onto revising, I can inject something new.
    Theresa

  23. Beppie Harrison at

    Thanks, Margie. I’ve done (at least I think I’ve done) some of that without realizing what I’ve done — what a powerful tool! If you feel great waves of appreciation washing toward you, that’s me.

    Beppie

  24. Kathy Crouch at

    Woohoo *\:) waving at Margie I need a refresher course I forgot all I learned when I go to write. Hugs and as always Margie great teaching examples. Every so often see one of the oboks you mention and go oh Margie told us about that one.
    My attempt feeble though it is:
    Seeking the infant/toddler room, Amy found the teacher changing a baby. She pushed open the door and waited, anxious, searching, seeking her daughter.

  25. HELLO EVERYONE!

    Great to see all you here. Loved your comments and examples.

    Busy work day for me. Wish I had time to reply to all of you one-by-one.

    SOME TEACHING COMMENTS!

    1. READ THOSE EXAMPLES, and your WIP, OUT LOUD. PAY ATTENTION TO THE CADENCE. WHAT WORKS? WHY?

    HAVE YOU TRAINED YOUR CADENCE EAR?

    2. TRACK EVERY BODY LANGUAGE LINE YOU HAVE IN YOUR WIP, CHAPTER BY CHAPTER. CREATE LISTS LIKE THIS:
    CHAPTER 6:

  26. Hey, Miss Margie.
    Great to see you here.

    I have to admit I didn’t “get” the dialogue cues thing the first time you taught it to me. I must be in the SLOW LEARNER section of the class. The SECOND TIME you taught it to me, a little light bulb went off (cliche alert) . . . and HALLELUJAH did it make a difference.

    I credit MUCH of your edits system, body language and dialogue cues with BOTH of the contracts I’ve been offered in the last month. So thanks for the pointers.

    V~

  27. Hello Again!

    To continue:

    SORRY THAT E-MAIL SENT BEFORE I FINISHED. I must have tapped my touch pad twice. I’m still getting used to my ACER. ;-))

    CHAPTER 6:
    7 Eye messages
    2 Lip/mouth
    1 Flicker-face
    1 Full face
    6 Dialogue Cues about non-POV character
    0 Dialogue Cues from POV character
    1 Gait/stride
    3 Touch, (2 amplified)
    5 Proximity
    1 Ideomotoric Shift

    PLUS — I recommend paying attention to how you use rhetorical devices too. Do you use lots of similes to share dialogue cues?

    I KNOW. SEEMS LIKE A LOT TO TRACK!

    AH — THE SACRIFICES WRITERS MAKE TO CREATE A PAGE TURNER.

    YOU CAN TRACK — ABOVE THE BEGINNING OF EACH CHAPTER. THE PERFECT PLACE TO MAKE NOTES TO YOURSELF ABOUT THE CHAPTER.

    ALSO THE PERFECT PLACE TO PASTE YOUR CHAPTER FOCUS FORM. I COVER THE CFF IN DEEP EDITING.

    OKAY – That’s enough teaching from me now.

    I’ll be back on-line later tonight — after critique group.

    If you have questions about my on-line classes, Lecture Packets, or my 3-day Immersion Master Class, please feel free to e-mail me, margie@margielawson.com

    THANK YOU!

    DROP BY LATER TONIGHT – TO SEE WHO WON A LECTURE PACKET!

    And — Visit my web site to learn about my Dare Devil Dachshund Contest!

    ALL SMILES…………….MARGIE
    http://WWW.MargieLawson.com

  28. These are some great examples, Margie! Thank you! I love to write dialogue cues in my stories. Like you said, I think they say so much more than the dialogue itself.

  29. Thank you so much for this blog and the amazing information you presented. I’m certain that my dialog will be snappier and more meaningful if I can incorporate some of your dialog cues.

  30. Margie,

    I’m so glad I popped over to this blog today. I’ve just begun edits on my next novel and this is a great reminder on how to make each line the best it can be.

    Now back to my lessons for DSDB. LOL.

    AJ
    http://www.autumnjordon.com
    2009 Golden Heart Finalist

  31. phoquess at

    What an absolutely useful post. ^.^

  32. Margie, a small piece of body language from my latest WIP is below. The conversation is between the hero and a rogue samurai.

    “With pleasure, Samurai. Shall I give (my master) your name?”
    “Tell him the son of Shigehiro Tokoda is on his trail.”
    The man gulped. Toshi liked that. Even two years dead, his father’s name still carried weight from the grave.

  33. Kitty Bucholtz at

    Margie, another great post! Thanks so much! I’m going to start a list at the beginning of each chapter like you mentioned in your comment. What a great idea!

  34. HELLO EVERYONE!

    I APPRECIATE ALL THE COMMENTS. SOUNDS LIKE YOU ALL WILL BE MAKING YOUR MANUSCRIPTS STRONGER BY ADDING FRESH BODY LANGUAGE AND DIALOGUE CUES. Smart!

    I DREW TWO NAMES AGAIN. :-))

    TWO PEOPLE WON LECTURE PACKETS!

    THE TWO WINNERS ARE:

    JESSICA BACON and KRISTINE CAYNE!

    Jessica and Kristine — please e-mail me and let me know which Lecture Packet you would like. If you haven’t taken my editing courses, I recommend Empowering Characters’ Emotions.

    THANKS AGAIN to the brains and style mavens behind ROUTINES FOR WRITERS, Shonna, Stephanie, and Kitty.

    Drop by ROUTINES FOR WRITERS next Tuesday for more deep editing fun!

    ALL SMILES………….Margie
    http://www.MargieLawson.com

  35. Judy Ward at

    Margie,
    This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I’ve taken dozens of workshops and been to multiple conferences, but never found a workshop on this topic. “Show, don’t tell,” is my mantra. Thank you.

  36. Margie,

    Thanks for the excellent examples for each point. I can’t wait to attend your immersion class this year!

  37. Judy Wiebe at

    Margie, as always, you have “cut to the chase” and made things simple. I can’t wait until our chapter workshop on the 6th of Feb. Your insight is phenominal. Thank you!

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