Focus on Writing Nonverbal Communication to Improve Your
Writing Style

Crying baby

When a neighbor comes to visit with her 8-month-old sister, the baby always looks directly at me. Her face contorts right away, and she clings tightly to her sister. She wants nothing to do with me. This is an obvious example of nonverbal communication. As you write your stories, focus on writing nonverbal communication to get your point across.

You may recall many instances where you are in the presence of someone, and you pick up on their mood without them uttering a syllable. This focus is valuable when you write short stories and novels. Know that this focus is crucial since you will need to cover many bases as a writer:  dialogue, setting, plot, and other points. Mastering nonverbal communication is an awesome tool to have in your toolbox.

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of someone asking you what’s wrong. This question may have taken you by surprise since you hadn’t said anything. When you ask why they asked, they might say you were wincing. You may not have realized it, but you were indeed feeling the effects of a toothache.

Edelstein expands on this and says “There is more to an authentic character than personality, speech, behavior, and career. There is also the world of nonverbal communication, where a shrug, a smile, or silence communicates information effectively. How something is said changes the meaning of what is said” (290).


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Take time to people-watch. Have your notepad or other device handy. You’ll be surprised at the number of nonverbal clues people give. When you focus on writing nonverbal communication, it becomes a dependable tool. It gives you a window into the character’s mind where emotions and underlying thoughts coalesce. Let your characters tell your readers what’s on their minds through their actions. These invisible threads knit together and create characters in the mosaic of your narrative world.

Focus on Writing Nonverbal Communication by Studying Examples

Male student studying

In developing your characters, nonverbal communication is crucial because it alleviates the monotony of dialogue and makes it easier for your reader to engage in the story. Dialogue can only go so far in a story, while nonverbal communication lets the reader know about the character through depth and complexity. The reader then follows a natural course into the emotional state of the character where she can deduce truthfulness and relationship dynamics.

The following three examples will help bring clarity to the meaning of nonverbal communication:

  • A character is having lunch with a couple of his colleagues. They are discussing a pressing issue. The character rubs the back of his neck continually. This could clue the reader that he has doubts about what is being said.
  • Another character is in a group and keeps her arms folded across her chest. This is a closed-off position that signals defensiveness or emotional distance. But be careful in this assessment because it could also mean she's chilly and crosses her arms to conserve heat.
  • The third example is that of a character who avoids eye contact, by looking away, blinking more than normal, or who otherwise shields her eyes. This could indicate one who wants to avoid conversation because of insecurity, guilt, or because she’s lying.
Dog wearing sunglasses

These examples and others that you come across, present a picture that defines character development at its best all without words.

Focus on Writing Nonverbal Communication by Knowing the Types

Body language woman

Getting deeper into nonverbal communication, realize that there are many different types that you need to know to enhance your writing skills. They include:

Body movements (kinesics), for example, hand gestures or nodding or shaking the head, which are often the easiest element of non-verbal communication to control;

Posture, or how you stand or sit, whether your arms are crossed, and so on;

Eye contact, where the amount of eye contact often determines the level of trust and trustworthiness;

Para-language, or aspects of the voice apart from speech, such as pitch, tone, and speed of speaking;

Closeness or personal space (proxemics), which determines the level of intimacy, and which varies very much by culture;

Facial expressions, including smiling, frowning and blinking, which are very hard to control consciously. Interestingly, the broad facial expressions that show strong emotions, such as fear, anger, and happiness, are the same throughout the world; and

Physiological changes, for example, you may sweat or blink more when you are nervous, and your heart rate is also likely to increase. These are almost impossible to control consciously and are therefore a very important indicator of mental state. (“Nonverbal Communication”)

When you focus on writing nonverbal communication, you will sidestep the need for so much dialogue and instantly place your reader inside the shoes of your characters. Body language speaks volumes without uttering a word.

Find out more information about nonverbal communication.

As you focus on writing nonverbal communication to improve your writing style, you begin to craft realistic characters in short stories and novels. It’s a silent orchestra that carries out its melody in the background of dialogue. You will soon discover that a thorough understanding of nonverbal communication can transform your writing style, making it far more compelling, and providing an opportunity for your reader to experience the world of your characters just as vividly as your own.

Unless otherwise indicated images created with Dream by Wombo

“Nonverbal Communication.” Skills You Need, Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.