Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lie to Me: Characters lie too

I'm a Netflix patron and recently watched the whole first season of Lie to Me starring Tim Roth (in a 3 day marathon :-D!!). It's about a genius psychologist who studies microexpressions and body language to determine whether or not people are telling the truth. Microexpressions are involuntary facial expressions so fleeting that people aren't aware of doing them, and most people don't see others doing them either. (Test how good you are at reading microexpressions).

Tim Roth's character, Dr. Liteman, is hired by major corporations and federal agencies to conduct investigations. Lives are always on the line when Dr. Liteman is around. Watching this TV show has made me want to study applied psychology (yet another want-to-be profession added to my ever growing list!) Anyway, getting to the point, it's also made me think about the various ways characters interact in books.

We've all heard that no matter what we say to someone, body language is what communicates most of our message. This should hold up in the stories we write. It's difficult because unlike real life interactions...or interactions in movies...we rely on communicating a message with words and no pictures. We use words to create the pictures. Our characters' body language and facial expressions are still important. Writers rely a great deal on dialogue to move the story along. But to add depth to what our characters say, it's important to tag dialogue with the appropriate body language and facial expressions.

"I'll give you the money," he said obligingly. <-- This is quick and easy, but it's lacking depth.

His nostrils flared a second before he smiled. "I'll give you the money." <-- This isn't as black & white as the the line above. The difference is the subtle suggestion of an emotion besides "obliging." This guy was trying to hide his resentment with a smile, but his involuntary microexpression gave him away to the reader and possibly the other characters.

My goal is to be more aware of my characters' body pinpoint the right body language and facial expressions to match emotion and intention. I think we all do this to a certain degree naturally, of course, but I know I could be more aware.

(My tips from this post can also be found on Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles blog. I love Casey's blog.)


  1. I just love your posts :D
    They're always so interesting.

    I try to utilize body language in my writing, but I know I could be better.

  2. :-) Thanks, Kristina! That's a nice thing to say (or write, rather). I like your posts, too!

    A lot of the time for me, body language is really the afterthought, which is strange. I focus so much of my attention on people's body language in "real life" always trying to get to the bottom of their thoughts and emotions. I'm not saying to overdo it or anything, I just think I take body language and expressions for granted. I definitely focus much more of my time on dialogue.

  3. Nice post. Microexpressions are very interesting. Hopefully with some practice, I can read my wife better.

  4. Great post! New follower here from Casey's blog.

    Nice ta meet ya!

  5. Thanks, Matthew! Thanks for stopping by and becoming a follower :-) Looks like you've got yourself a pretty nifty blog, yourself!