Oct 11, 2010

Nonverbal Cues

By: Rebecca Irvine

I am late posting today, but I suppose better late than never. I was teaching a communications class this evening at Red Mountain Community College and several of the class topics caught my eye in terms of writing. Specifically, I was teaching about nonverbal communication and that it often communicates meaning more fully than verbal communication. There are numerous aspects to nonverbal communication, which I will list below. How might you add additional detail to your characters or conflicts by including nonverbal cues such as...?

Body Movements:
Emblems: body gestures that translate into words

Illustrators: used to enhance verbal messages (i.e., flight attendant hand gestures during safety instuctions)

Affect Displays: movements of hands, face and body that communicate emotion

Regulators: behaviors that try to regulate or control communication of others (i.e.,  nod of head or hand in circular motion tells someone keep talking)

Adaptors: gestures that satisfy a personal need (i.e., blowing your nose or scratching an itch)

Spatial Messages:

Territoriality: possessive reaction to a space

Markers: signals of ownership, give you a feeling of belonging

Proxemic Distances: how far or near we place ourselves to one another

Artifactual Communication:

Color: the colors we choose to surround ourselves with communicate messages to others

Clothing: Clothes express people’s attitudes toward themselves and their society

Space Decoration: the objects we surround ourselves with communicate meaning

Olfactics: what we smell can communicate (i.e., perfume communicates attraction)

Touch Communication:

Touch can communicate play, control, ritual, task, and emotion

Absense of touch also communicates (i.e., avoiding someone's handshake)

Paralanguage and Silence:

Paralanguage is the vocal but nonverbal dimension of speech (i.e., accents, pronunciation, stuttering).

Silence can be used as a weapon, to show personal anxiety, to prevent communication, to communicate emotional responses, or simply that someone has nothing to say.

Time Communication:

When someone does something communicates a person's thoughts and attitudes about that action. Is it done with punctuality? Is it done as quickly as possible with bare minimum work?


There are likely better ways to "show" your reader details that currently are stated explicitly in your manuscript. Try adding a new detail or two to your work in progress using one of these nonverbal cues.


  1. These are definitely helpful in writing! Thanks.

  2. These are all the kinds of things that we need to add to our novels to make them more interesting.

  3. Okay, I'm printing and studying this.


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