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June 7th, 2007

There are many critical pieces to writing. Some are immediately obvious - dialog, using the senses, good grammar and sentence structure. Other are more subtle, but as badly needed - pacing, the flow (or music) of the words themselves, and character gestures/body language.

In a visual medium, gestures and body language tend to be subconscious clues we see as part of the whole picture, which if the actor is worth anything, will convey or emphasize emotions and relationships. They can add flavor and meaning to dialog, or even impart dialog without a word ever needing to be said. The actors Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, from the show Supernatural (oh yeah, plug the obsession why don't you?), are masters at this. You can pick up just about any episode and watch these two communicate with gestures and glances, or see their body postures add to whatever is going on whether things are being said or not. One beautiful example is at the end of the second season episode called "Playthings", where Sam brings up a promise Dean made and had hoped Sam would not remember. As soon as the dialog is done, they both get in the car. Dean glances over at Sam, hoping to somehow argue against the promise and comes to a stop. On the other side of the car, Sam is sitting like a stiff board, staunchly not looking at his brother but out the front of the car. His face is tight, and a muscle is jumping at his jawline. Seeing this, Dean says nothing and starts the car. Sam's body language spoke volumes to his brother and the audience, yet never a word was said. That's the beauty of body language - speaking without saying anything.

This same visual use of gestures and body language can be applied to written text. It can add dimensions of meaning and information not necessarily available by dialog or general description alone.

Let's take the innocuous sentence of "What do you want?". It's not much of a phrase and pretty much imparts nothing aside from the fact it implies a conversation between two people. Now let's add a smattering of body language or gestures to this sentence and see what happens.

Example 1 - Gary's eyes narrowed. "What do you want?"

Example 2 - Bobby shot Ben the finger. "What do you want?"

Example 3 - Rita leaned forward, giving a better view of her cleavage, her hungry gaze never leaving his. "What do you want?"

Example 4 - Velina snapped her fingers in front of his face, then turned away to drop in a relaxed heap into the nearest chair. "What do you want?"

Example 5 - "What do you want?" Debbie wouldn't look at Bob directly as she spoke, her shoulders hunched and hands clasped in a white knuckled grip before her.

Example 6 - "What do you want?" Rita gave him a sideways grin, and with a sweeping gesture pointed at the wall of goods to her right.

Hopefully, as you read each example, the gestures and body language added a flavor/dimension to what was actually being said, giving each instance of "what do you want?" a different impetuous and even revealing bits about the relationships of those involved. (Did you find yourself putting inflections on the words just from the hints? Cool, isn't it!) Though you know nothing about the characters or their situations at this point, just these tiny bits imparted a wealth of information, which instantly enriched the situation and fed your imagination.

So on your next project, don't forget to add some unspoken dialog to the work.

Gloria Oliver
Unveiling the Fantastic

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Gloria Oliver
Unveiling the Fantastic



(2015) Fantasy

The King is Dead! Long Live the Undead King!

"What are you implying?"

The magister glided forward and scrunched down beside him.

"That in order to bathe, you must first actually get into the bath."


(2014) Urban Fantasy

It took everything from her, except revenge!

The muscles in my right arm jerked from tension as I tried to make it move and it resisted. A shrill scream inside my head insisted I didn't want to do this. That if I did, there'd be no way to take it back. "I...I'm afraid."


(2011) Young Adult – Fantasy

Which is worse…the monster without or within?


Home—family—the two things he would never have, the two things forever denied him…because of her.

Anger welled inside him, the heat of it suffusing him to the core, gurgling with seething emotions the total opposite of the coolness splashing down from the fountain nearby. Before he realized what he was doing, Jarrin stepped inside the gazebo.

(2007) Young Adult – Fantasy
“Harry Potter meets Dragon Riders of Pern”


“Do you need any help?” she asked. “Just tell me what you want me to do. If you prefer, I’m sure I can round up at least a few people to come over and give you a hand.”

Kel slowly shook his head. “It’s all right. Thanks anyway.” His voice lowered to where she almost couldn’t hear it. “This is all part of my punishment.’

She frowned, not understanding what he meant. “Punishment?”

Kel cocked his head in Clarence’s direction. In a flash, she understood. None of this was an accident. Clarence had landed there deliberately, hoping to make Kel pay for all he went through in the past month. She shook her head, not wanting to believe this, but what the dragon said next took any doubts right out of her head.

(2008) Young Adult – Fantasy
“To save the world she must DIE! Or must she?”


Panic and fear filled with utter helplessness made her dizzy. She knew what would be done with her, she knew what they planned. But there was nothing she could do to stop any of it.

Sharp gasps echoed in her ears as she felt the room’s cold air caress the Eye.

“You were right. She is the one.”

(2002) Adult/YA – Japanese Fantasy Adventure
“The Last Samurai meets Pirates of the Caribbean”


Laying the blade on the floor before him, Toshi parted his kimono until his stomach lay exposed. He tucked his sleeves beneath his legs to hold him upright if he should falter. Ignoring Asano, he took up the blade. His shoulder flared with pain and he tried not to flinch, as he grabbed the blade with both hands. He turned the wakizashi until its sharp point was aimed at his belly, the residence of his soul.

(2004) Adult/YA – Fantasy Mystery
“He tried to forget his past, but his past wouldn’t forget him”


Torren took a step back a sudden shudder racking through him. It was as if he’d never left, as if the boy he’d been would be coming back-though the one who’d loved this room and all these things was long, long dead. That boy died when he’d watched his father’s blood pour forth from his mouth, the end of a sword protruding from his abdomen. That boy died when he survived while everyone else lay dead.

Info, sample chapters, and free reads at www.gloriaoliver.com

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