May 31st, 2021

What’s Your Body Language IQ?

by Margie Lawson

Everyone needs to become an expert on body language. Misreading body language can lead to disgrace, disaster, and divorce.

Yikes!

How well do you read body language?

Take the 10 Point Quiz I created and find out!

What’s Your Body Language IQ?

  1. Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal.  T    F
  2. If people say the right words, it doesn’t matter how they say them.  T    F
  3. Some people wait a few seconds before showing a nonverbal response.  T   F
  4. Body language can only be interpreted one way.  T    F
  5. People subconsciously mirror nonverbal behavior of others.  T    F
  6. If the words and body language contradict each other, the listener believes the body language. T F
  7. Facial expressions convey 85% of the nonverbal message.  T   F
  8. People can cover up their emotions by keeping their face blank.  T   F
  9. Lips carry more nonverbal messages than eyes.  T    F
  10. When anxious, people touch their face more often.  T    F

STOP!  

Did you take the quiz? 

If not – TAKE THE QUIZ NOW.

I’m waiting.

And waiting.

You really took it this time. Right?

Give yourself 10 points for each correct answer.

Ready for those answers?

1.   Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal.  T    F

TRUE

It’s a monstrous percentage, which is why people should monitor their nonverbals. Let’s look at the number one phobia in the U.S., public speaking.  

If you’re nervous you may display a cluster of anxiety flags, e.g., rolling in lips, tightening mouth, evasive eye contact, halting gait, soft voice, modulated voice tones.

If your anxiety escalates, your nonverbals become more pronounced: collapsed chest, shoulders forward, respiration rapid and shallow, pupils dilated, voice pitched high, face tight.

Project more confident body language, and you’ll feel more confident. People will react positively to the new, confident you. 

Writers almost always need more subtext on their pages. Subtext shares the psychological messages behind body language.

How do you get subtext on the page?

Facial expressions. Dialogue cues. Spatial cues. Gestures.

2.   If people say the right words, it doesn’t matter how they say them.  T    F

FALSE 

An easy one. Vocal cues carry qualifying messages that support or discount the words. Americans are pros at sarcasm. Watch your inflection, rate of speech, volume, and tone. Be sure your vocal cues support your message—unless you’re telling a joke.

On the page, dialogue cues carry that all-critical subtext.

Don’t write overused, carry-no-power, blah-de-blah-blah dialogue tags. Share subtext and write fresh.

Taken, Rebecca Rivard, Virtual Immersion Grad

Before: “Calm down,” he said in a hard voice.

After Deep Editing: “Chill. Out.” His voice was don’t-mess-with-me mean.

Leigh Robinson, Immersion Grad (in Australia) and Multi-Virtual Immersion Grad

My voice had an unwavering, unyielding, refusing-to-be-cross-examined-by-Jacqui tone.

Trust Me, Romily Bernard, Margie-Grad

I can barely hear Lily now. She’s whispering softer than I am, probably close to tears, and I should try for comforting, but I’m barely holding down a scream.

Romily Bernard could have just written the first sentence and moved on with her story.

Look how much more interest and power she put on the page. Impressive.

3.   Some people wait a few seconds before showing a nonverbal response. T   F

FALSE

Nonverbal communication is continuous. It’s on-going. It never stops.

Pauses and hesitations are not your friend on the page. Why? Nothing happens. And nothing happening is not interesting.

Writers share what happens in real life. We pause. We hesitate.

But body language is happening then. Make your scenes stronger. Nix the pause and get fresh body language on the page.

Body language is interesting if it’s written in a fresh way. And it carries psychological power too.

Rebecca Rivard could have had her POV character pause in the following example. But she wrote this fresh amplified body language piece instead.

Taken, Rebecca Rivard, Virtual Immersion Grad

I touched the switchblade in my pocket for good luck and loosened my muscles—jaw, neck, shoulders, fingers. Tension distracted you. It wasted energy, added to your mental strain. When you were tense, you made mistakes.

And mistakes could get you killed.

4.   Body language can only be interpreted one way.  T    F

FALSE

An easy answer, with complex levels of application. Cognitively, people know there are multiple interpretations. Yet people interpret body language at a subconscious level and act on those feelings. 

Let’s imagine a wife asks her husband to go with her to visit her mother, and in the next nanosecond his gaze shifts away and back, he sighs, and his mouth tightens.

The wife reads his body language, assumes her husband doesn’t want to go, and reacts before he can say anything.

She says, “Forget it.  I’ll go without you.” Her tone is sharp enough to cut a diamond.

Her body language—stiff posture, flashing eyes, harsh tone—surprise her husband.  He stares at her, his mouth open (confused) or closed tight (mad). 

She turns, grabs the keys, and leaves.

The husband stands there wondering what the heck happened.

I know what happened.

Her question, asking him to go with her, triggered a thought. He remembered that the last time he drove the car it vibrated, and he wondered if the tires needed to be balanced. His split-second body language—shifting gaze, a sigh, and his mouth tightening—stemmed from thoughts about the tires.

Whoops.

The wife thought his body language communicated he didn’t want to go with her to visit her mother.

He has no idea why she got angry and left.

Situations like that play out too frequently with couples, friends, and coworkers. 

People misinterpret nuances of body language and react. Misreading body language creates conflict.

Having characters misread body language is an easy way to get more tension on your pages and complicate your scenes. Smart and fun too.

5.   People subconsciously mirror nonverbal behavior of others.  T    F

TRUE – and so fun!

When you’re in a restaurant, watch couples and friends. If they like each other, they both lean forward seemingly at the same time. One leads by a nanosecond. They may reach for their beverages and drink at the same time. They mirror posture, gestures, facial expressions, voice patterns. Their body language looks choreographed.

You could slip mirroring in your book a couple of times. It’s a universal truth. And universal truths cement readers in the POV character’s skin.

6.   If the words and body language contradict each other, the listener believes the body language.  T   F

TRUE

When the words are incongruent with the body language and/or how the dialogue is delivered, people always believe the nonverbals. 

Every book needs body language that shows the incongruence on the face, or between facial expressions and dialogue cues, or between a face or voice and a visceral response.

You need tension on the page. Write this incongruence and share it in a fresh way.

Leigh Robinson, Multi-Virtual Immersion Grad

Jacqui’s smile was encouraging, but her eyes revealed her doubts.

Trust Me, Romily Bernard, Margie-Grad

“You’re checking my stuff?” I ask, and I sound good. I’m all light and unimpressed even though my insides are splintering.

Morianna, Corinne O’Flynn, Virtual Immersion Grad

“Thank you, Mr. Albie.” I let my tone express exactly where I wished he’d stick his chivalrous gesture.

The reader gets the incongruence in all those examples. Smart writing!

7.   Facial expressions convey 85% of the nonverbal message.  T   F

FALSE

Facial expressions are key, but vocal cues (what I call dialogue cues on the page), posture, movements, spatial relationships, all contribute to the nonverbal message.

Depending on the research, faces carry 30 to 50% of the nonverbals.

Write more facial expressions and write them fresh!

Wild Women and the Blues, Denny Bryce, 7-time Immersion-Grad

Her expression was like the pages of the screenplay I never wrote. Blank with a heavy shot of I don’t care.

Most Likely to Succeed, Monica Corwin, Multi-Immersion Grad, NYT Bestseller

I forced a small smile. The one reserved for funerals and unexpected encounters with the inspiration of every fantasy I ever had.

Like Father Not Son, Kristin Meachem, Multi-Immersion Grad, Australia and U.S.

  1. She has the same pleading look our last dog had lying on the table at the vet with broken bones, bleeding insides. Save me.
  2. He stares at me with no smile, no pat-on-the-back fondness. He stares at me with eyes I’ve only seen in hidden photos. Eyes I will never forget. He stares at me with eyes Kaitlyn once loved.

8.   People can cover up their emotions by keeping their face blank.  T   F

FALSE

Faces are never blank. Lips twitch. Nostrils flare. Eyes narrow or widen almost imperceptibly. Mouths barely open or barely tighten. Pupils dilate. Tips of tongues show when people lick lips.

To a kinesics specialist, these are all diagnostic indicators. To a writer, these are cues to write what I call flicker-face emotions. 

Star-Crossed, Pintip Dunn, Immersion Grad, RITA Winner, NYT Bestseller

1.  Her eyes meet mine for a fraction of a second, and something I can’t read flits through them.

2. Hope lights up her face, and then, like a flickering candle, it dies. 

A School for Unusual Girls, Kathleen Baldwin, USA Today Bestseller

  1. A flash of surprise lit her eyes but instantly vanished, followed by a frighteningly cold steel shuttering of her features. 
  2. An emotion splashed across Jane’s face, but vanished so swiftly I couldn’t identify it. Was it anger? Sadness perhaps? Or pain?

Flicker-face emotions are fun to write. Dig in. Make them carry power.

9.   Lips carry more nonverbal messages than eyes.  T    F

TRUE

The lips do more, convey more emotion. Watch people’s mouths. You’ll have more insight into their reactions and decisions.

Writers need to remember, an open mouth, even barely open, usually means the person is thinking about it, and they may be open to that idea. A closed mouth usually means no way.

You’d write the mouth, then you might share the POV character’s interpretation. What that means to them.

Picture a teenager asking to use the car. And they see this look: Dad’s mouth went tight, and I knew I’d never get the car.

I shared how the POV character interpreted that facial expression. I shared what I call "impact on the POV character."

10. When anxious, you touch your face more often.  T    F

TRUE

Self-touch behaviors increase when people are anxious. They touch their faces (cheek, eyebrow, lip, nose, ear), or near their face (throat, jaw, back of neck, behind ear, hair), as well as their hands and arms. 

Self-touch behaviors accelerate when anxiety is high. They are body language polygraphs.

When people are in a job interview, when suspects are interrogated, when a guy proposes to his gal, self-touch behaviors significantly increase. The person who’s anxious may touch their face, throat, hand, or arm every 10 to 20 seconds, sometimes every couple of seconds, unaware of their self-touch behavior. 

More good info for writing characters who are anxious or scared. Just don’t overdo those self-touch behaviors.

How did you score? 

Did you make a 100?  90?  80?

Body language is fascinating in real life and on the page.

IN REAL LIFE you get to monitor and moderate your body language when you’re pitching to agents and editors, interacting with booksellers, doing a book signing, being on a panel, presenting a workshop or webinar or master class.

ON THE PAGE you get to explore the full range of body language, and challenge yourself to write it fresh, fresh, fresh! Look at the power you have with body language.  You can use faces and voices to add tension, complicate scenes, and drive plot points too.

Dig for the truth. Share the tension. Write those faces and voices in fresh ways.


Thanks so much for being here today. Please post a comment and say Hi!

Hellooo… I’m talking to all of you!

I can’t see your expressions. Click in and say Hi. I’d love to know you’re here.

Want to learn how to write fresh facial expressions and dialogue cues?

Take my Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist class. It starts tomorrow, June 1. Don’t miss out!

My next Dig Deep Webinar: Expand Time, Intensify Power

  • Thursday, June 17, 12:00 p.m. Mountain Time
  • Friday, June 18, 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time

* * * * * *

About Margie

Margie Lawson left a career in psychology to focus on another passion—helping writers make their stories, characters, and words strong. Using a psychologically-based, deep-editing approach, Margie teaches writers how to bring emotion to the page. Emotion equals power. Power grabs readers and holds onto them until the end. Hundreds of Margie grads have gone on to win awards, find agents, sign with publishers, and hit bestseller lists.     

An international presenter, Margie has taught over 150 full-day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as multi-day intensives on cruise ships in the Caribbean. Pre-COVID, she taught 5-day Immersion Master Classes across the U.S. and Canada and in seven cities in Australia too. 

COVID Update: Immersion Master Classes are now virtual, taught through Zoom. Virtual Immersion classes are limited to six writers. They're two days long—and as always, writers get one on one deep editing with Margie. 

She also founded Lawson Writer's Academy, where you’ll find over 30 instructors teaching online courses through her website. To learn more, and sign up for Margie’s newsletter, visit www.margielawson.com.

Image by Usman Yousaf from Pixabay

Don’t forget about Lawson Writer’s Academy courses!

I’m so proud of all the smart classes we offer writers. Check out our powerful line-up for June!

  1. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist
  2. Dazzling Developmental Edits
  3. Killing It with Conflict
  4. Write Backstory with Confidence
  5. Flying Write
  6. Can We Talk? Dialogue the Write Way
  7. Crazy-Easy Awesome Author Websites
  8. Battling the Basics
  9. Six-Week Author Mentoring Intensive
  10. Profitable Facebook Ads

I’d love to cyber-meet you! Drop by my monthly “Get Happy with Margie” Open House, Tuesday, June 15, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

Thank you again. See you in the comments section!

45 responses to “What’s Your Body Language IQ?”

  1. LauraDrake says:

    Thanks for the reminders Margie, and as always, the fantastic examples! Miss you...

  2. Julia Archer says:

    Hi! This was very interesting, and very practical. I have filed it away to refer to when I'm trying to make dialogue come to life. Thank you.

    • Hello Julia --

      I'm glad you're saving this blog!

      But I have to share, you'd learn soooooooooooooooooooooo much in the body language and dialogue cues class that starts tomorrow. Those couple hundred pages of lectures are loaded with examples and teaching points!

      I promise I'm not being pushy. Just sharing information.

  3. lrtrovi says:

    I need more of this! I've been using the same old tired ones in my WIP, I'm boring myself writing. This gives me fresh inspiration and I suspect I need that class. Thanks.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I HATE those sessions, when you feel like all your writing is boring and blah. I hope this post helps perk you up, lrtrovi!

    • Hello Introvi --

      You'd learn how to write facial expressions and dialogue cues in fresh ways that deepen characterization. And more!

      I'm sure you'd use all the info in my body language and dialogue cues class.

      Thanks for posting!

  4. Hi Margie! Thanks so much for the great reminders --- so many good suggestions.

  5. These are great insights, Margie. "His voice was don’t-mess-with-me mean." LOVE it!

    • Hello Karen --

      I love that dialogue cue too!

      "His voice was don’t-mess-with-me mean." Kudos to Rebecca Rivard.

      You're new to me, so my online courses may be new to you. Hope you check them out.

      Thanks so much for letting me know you're here!

  6. Laurel Dennis says:

    Love these and Margie! She pushes the writer to NYT heights.

    • Big Lovey Hugs to Virtual Immersion Grad Laurel --

      Love your fresh line:

      -- She pushes the writer to NYT heights!

      And I love pushing and shoving and cajoling writers to make every sentence as strong as it can be.

      Then they get new contracts, or sell lots more books, or hit bestseller lists--and we all celebrate!

      • Jenny Hansen says:

        This made me laugh: "And I love pushing and shoving and cajoling writers to make every sentence as strong as it can be." <--You are awesome at the gentle cajoling shove!

  7. Thank you, Margie! This topic is always fascinating. In college, after taking one communications class, I found a way to take as many as possible. Even after all these years I got a 90% on your test. What fun!

  8. Ronit says:

    This was so helpful! Thank you!

  9. An editing keeper...and this time I'm saving the link to include in edit comments when needed. Thanks, as always, for your genius and hard work.

    Faith

  10. Jenny Hansen says:

    This old psychology major learned a few new things about body language, so THANKS FOR THE MAGIC. And the learning and the brain-twisting. After I read one of your posts, I write and write and write. 🙂

  11. Eldred Bird says:

    Great information, Margie. I managed to get 9 out of 10 right (blew #7). Question #6 is one of my favorites. I've always been a believer in the old adage, "Believe what people show you, not what they tell you." Sometimes body language and facial expressions tell more tales than words. Ask any professional card player.

  12. juliegloverwrites says:

    As always, great stuff! Love the examples too. I did well on the quiz, Margie, but—as you well know—writing body language is a little tougher for me. I'm working on increasing my IQ in that area! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      *fist bump, Julie*

      I always seem to forget body language on the first draft. And then, when I want it, I struggle for the fresh. The dialogue itself is one of my superpowers but the body language, facial expressions, etc? NOT SO MUCH.

    • Big Lovey Hugs to Immersion Grad Julie --

      Thank you.

      I know you'll dig deep and write faces and dialogue tags in fresh ways. You'll be proud of the power you put on the page!

  13. KathleenBaldwin says:

    Hi Margie!
    (((HUGS)))
    Great blog! So helpful, as always.

    I'm honored you used an example from A School For Unusual Girls. Body language cues are powerful tools for constructing vivid fiction.

    PS: I am an Immersion Grad, too. AND I took an in person class from you on Body Language and Dialogue cues. LOVED IT!!! You've had a King Kong size impact on my writing. (See there, I tried not to use a cliché--LOL)

    Thank you for all you've taught me.
    XOXO

    • Big Lovey Hugs to Immersion Grad Kat --

      You remember what you learned in Immersion and in my Body Language and Dialogue Cues--
      and you use what you learned sooooo well!

      YOU WROTE:

      -- You've had a King Kong size impact on my writing. (See there, I tried not to use a cliché--LOL)

      -- Thank you for all you've taught me.

      Kat -- It was my absolute joy to work with you. Can't wait to see you again, sometime!

  14. KathleenBaldwin says:

    PSS: Right along with your theme is a fan favorite quote from the same book that I have to credit you for helping me with, and it is all about believing how one speaks over what they say:

    The heroine talking to Lord Ravencross:
    "I learned all those years ago to stop listening to what people say, and listen instead to what they mean. Some people speak with honey and intend to serve us poison. You, my lord, speak with thorns but yearn for cake.”

    Thank you again for teaching me these principles.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Kathleen, that dialogue is ama-a-a-a-azing!

    • Hellooo Again Kat --

      So glad you shared this awesome example from A SCHOOL FOR UNUSUAL GIRLS.

      Love that book!

      PSS: Right along with your theme is a fan favorite quote from the same book that I have to credit you for helping me with, and it is all about believing how one speaks over what they say:

      The heroine talking to Lord Ravencross:

      "I learned all those years ago to stop listening to what people say, and listen instead to what they mean. Some people speak with honey and intend to serve us poison. You, my lord, speak with thorns but yearn for cake.”

      Thank you again for teaching me these principles.

      KAT -- STUNNING. STUNNING. STUNNING!

      Can't wait to read your latest release -- The Persuasion of Miss Kate. I know I'll love it too!

  15. Virginia says:

    Awesome post, great examples. Anyone not identify with the wife in #4? I only got 70% 🙁 Would love to take that class but with 2 broken wrists I find using the computer is extremely challenging.

  16. Barb DeLong says:

    Love your examples, Margie! I'm working on this very thing. Coming up with fresh language is hard, but fun!

  17. Tom Crepeau says:

    Hello again. Thank you for the reminders.

  18. dholcomb1 says:

    fascinating post

  19. Bonnie Zelenak says:

    Hello, Margie and all you fabulous immersion class writers. I'm currently enrolled in the Body Language and Dialogue Cues class right now and loving it! So many fabulous ideas presented in every lecture, so many assignments that push me to work harder, apply the principles presented in our virtual class. And the insightful feedback offered by Suzanne is a huge bonus. Thank you for the opportunity to learn, work, and play harder!

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