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Dialogue Without Words

July 9, 2012

There may come a time in your writings when one or more of your characters can no longer speak for whatever reason, be it a vow of silence, an injury, or perhaps they have gags in their mouths. If that time comes, it makes dialogue rather difficult. In this situation, the author has to learn how to communicate without speaking. Of course, many times this problem can be solved simply by having the characters write what they would have said, but without paper and pencil, the characters still need to be able to interact. The best way to handle this is through gestures and facial expressions. Whether we realize it or not, we tend to rely on facial expressions to communicate emotions and thoughts on a daily basis as it is, so it is not too difficult to translate this onto the page. Many common expressions can communicate a lot more than might at first appear.

Some common facial expressions and their meanings:

smile – happiness

frown – sadness, anger, irritation, etc.

raised eyebrow – questioning

lowered eyebrows – anger

wide eyes – surprise

narrowed eyes – suspicion

flared nostrils – anger, annoyance

Some common gestures and their meanings:

nods – yes, agreement

shakes head – no, disagreement, could also be sadness

shrugs shoulders – noncommittal, no information, unsure

looks down the nose – arrogance, haughtiness

lowers head – shame, sadness

holds head high – happiness

These expressions can also be used in addition to normal dialogue, describing the characters and their interactions while they talk. Since most people use both words and actions to communicate, this creates a feeling of realism in your works and can make the reader feel more like an active participant in the story.

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One Comment
  1. Your post here made me think about a great show to watch that talks about facial expressions a lot. Lie to Me didn’t run for very long, but for writer’s I can see how it would add to their repertoire of mannerisms.

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