Prose Post: Showing Emotion with Body Language and Action (Instead of Dialogue)

This is a blog written by an author’s fictitious characters. So why not write it in prose, too?

Yeah, that’s a crazy idea. Ridiculous. Preposterous.

We…decided to try it anyway.  Not too often—we don’t want to drive you crazy.  But a couple of times, we’ll write a post, you guessed it, in prose.  We chose second person, so that way you can feel included.

Hope you enjoy it!

Showing Emotion with Body Language and Action

This post is different. You recognize where you are, though. It’s the same shoreline as the last blog post of this type, although this time, it’s lit by the sun as well as the three moons.


You look around, expecting to see Ereinne and her sun-bright dress, but she isn’t here.

Instead, you find, of all people, Tiri.  She’s glaring, which…really doesn’t surprise you.  As soon as you notice her, she storms up the beach towards you, kicking up little poofs of sand with each step, like the sand is protesting her movement.  Wryly, you wonder if maybe she insulted the sand.

“Gah,” she says when she’s in earshot.  “Ereinne insisted I take charge of this post.”

And you actually listened? you think, blinking at her.

She scowls at you.  You wonder if this post is going to be even worse than Ereinne’s dress was in the last post.  What in the world are you doing here?  A little late to back out now, though; you’re already here.

“So what’s this post about?” you ask.

“Body language,” Tiri says, snorting.  “And non-dialogue character development.  I guess that’s why everyone voted for me and Saelas.”

Abruptly, you realize there’s someone standing behind Tiri.  You startle, taking a step backwards—where had he come from?  But now that you notice Saelas, you wonder how you hadn’t noticed him before.  You have to crane you neck back just to see his face.  He’s a skyscraper.

“Uhh…right,” you say.

Tiri turns to look up at Saelas.  You realize she’s also rather tall, although obviously not as much as him.  She, at least, isn’t looking up as far as her neck will allow just to see him.  “Well?” she says.

Saelas shrugs.

She makes a face.  “There’s more to body language than just shrugging, Saelas.  You’re going to have to cooperate for this post.”

He says nothing, and yet you get the idea that he just acknowledged her.  What did he do?

Tiri looks back at you and sighs.  “Okay, the basics, I guess.  For characters, dialogue is the simplest and easiest way to reveal things about ourselves.  All I have to do is say, ‘I don’t like Ereinne’, and everybody get the point.”

You absently wonder if Ereinne is reading this post and getting offended.  You also wonder if Tiri will ever apologize for being mean to other people, or if she just honestly doesn’t care.

“But,” Tiri continues, “with all the ‘show don’t tell’ advice every writer gets crammed down their throats, you probably realize that dialogue often falls more into the telling category than the showing category.  What’s better than me saying I don’t like someone?  Glaring at them.  Gets the idea across and isn’t just boring dialogue.”

Sure, you think.

Saelas is making a face you can’t quite read, and Tiri sighs again.

“Okay,” she says.  “Saelas is going to demonstrate.  Try to guess what he’s trying to say.”

Saelas raises an eyebrow at her, but he doesn’t protest.  Instead, he straightens up—making you realize he’d been slouching before—throwing his shoulders back, crosses his arms, and scrunches his face up.  At first, you’ve no idea what he’s trying to do, but then he sighs, really heavily.


He’s mocking Tiri.

She seems to realize this at the same time and swats her hand at him.  He drops the posture and grins at her, looking quite pleased with himself.

Tiri glances at you.  “You’re telling again.”

Wait what?  You’re completely confused.  What is it you’re supposed to be getting out of this post?  So far all you’ve done is play charades.

“It kind of is charades,” Tiri agrees.  Characters are going to feel an emotion, and it’s going to reflect in their facial expressions, the way they hold themselves, and their actions.  So instead of just saying something like—“

Saelas looks puzzled.

“—you actually describe what that’s like.”

Saelas raises an eyebrow and cocks his head to one side, lips pursed thoughtfully.  He eyes Tiri.

Don’t describe just the face, though,” Tiri says.  “When you only describe the face, then we’re forced to just stand there with our arms at our sides like we’re in a police lock up, and do you have any idea how boring that is?”

Saelas shifts, putting all of his weight on one foot, and scratches the top of his head.

“See?” Tiri says.  She no longer has her arms crossed, but instead is resting her hands on her hips, looking more at him than at you.  She stands tall.

You’re starting to feel kind of short.  You also realize that you haven’t done anything at all in this post.

It’s about the non-dialogue stuff, right?

“Pick an emotion,” Tiri says.  “And then instead of just announcing that you feel that, think of actions that will represent the emotion and describe those.  You basically have two goals.  Describe it so that the reader will feel the emotions and also let the readers infer the emotion, rather than be told outright what it is.  It helps them feel smart.”

Saelas raises an eyebrow at Tiri again.

“What?” she says.  “Readers don’t like having it assumed they don’t have brains of their own.”

That’s true, you think.

“So let’s try it,” Tiri says.

The scenery around you blurs, and when it comes back into focus, it’s no longer the beach.  Instead, you’re inside of a café.  Not just that, but you’re standing in line.  You realize that you have just ordered a muffin and you’re now waiting for it to be handed over.

Nobody’s handing it over.  The muffin is sitting in that little muffin-rack, waiting, taunting you, smelling delicious, and…not getting any closer to you.

Oh, well, maybe they’re just busy.

You tap your foot.

You fiddle with your shirt sleeves.

You frown and shift your weight to the other foot. More tapping.

“What’s taking so long?” you mutter.

Finally—finally—the muffin is handed over to you, along with a napkin.

“Thanks,” you say, just a tiny bit sarcastically, to the cashier, who you realize is Tiri.

“See!” she says.  “You got the entire idea across without ever actually saying that you’re impatient.”

Oh, you did.  Huh.

“Anyway,” she says.  “We’re finally done with this blog post.”  She glances over her shoulder, at Saelas, who, again, seems to have appeared out of nowhere.  Why hadn’t you noticed him before?  Maybe one day you’ll figure that out.*  “And someone here somehow got away with not saying a single word.”  She’s grinning, though, and not glaring, which is…interesting.

What a weird duo, those two.

Note: For help with body language, action, and other emotion-related writing, check out the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Great book. It was probably used for reference in writing this post. Probably. 

*That will probably require reading Oracular.  Which will require Morgan finishes writing it.