Writing: Creating Your Character’s Body Language Profile
As a former high school English teacher, I coached my students to develop their characters using three strategies: actions, dialogue, and thoughts. What I realized over time was that my students struggled most creating actions that were authentic to their characters. Fortunately, studying body language over the years has given me insight into how I can effectively help writers develop their characters through actions.
Insight from Anne Lamott
One of my favorite writing mentors is Anne Lamott. In her book, Bird by Bird, she discusses how a writer must realize that “each of your characters has an emotional acre that they tend, or don’t tend, in specific settings…You want to discover what each person’s acre looks like.” So one way we can discover a character’s “acre” or personality is by providing a tool that gets writers thinking about this concept. To aide in this I’ve created a Body Language Profile Worksheet.
How To Use the Body Language Profile Worksheet
You can’t write about what don’t know; therefore, the objective of this worksheet is to help writers develop the personality of their character before they start writing about him/her and get writers thinking about how that character’s body language is defining his/her personality.
I recommend that educators introduce this concept by having students complete the worksheet after they read and/or watch a video. Have students pick a character and outline the following on the worksheet:
- What was the character’s normal behavior when they weren’t stressed (aka – baseline)?
- How did the plot/situation impact the character’s behavior?
- How did the character demonstrate confidence through their body language?
- How did the character demonstrate discomfort through their body language?
- How did the character interact with other men/women?
After students are comfortable analyzing a character’s body language and articulating how their actions help create a stronger, more authentic character, invite students to start this same process with the characters they create.
As I stated in the beginning, actions are only one way to help develop characters in writing but it is an important piece that once mastered will help our students be more successful at creating character-driven stories vs. those mundane plot-driven stories that we’ve all heard time and time again.
Here’s to great character development!!!
We invite you to share your thoughts on this blog and the handout provided in the comments section below.