In February, I participated in Mary Buckham's online course and discussion, "Body Language on the Page," with the Guppies. The last online class I'd taken with Mary was "Plotting with the Mythic Structure: Creating Surefire Plots that Sell", in January 2007. She now offers this fabulous course through a lecture packet from her web site. I've been fortunate to meet Mary twice in person: when she came to Raleigh in October 2008, and last summer at the RWA National Conference.
The goal of "Body Language on the Page" is to help writers discover ways to clue readers in on a character's emotional state through movements of the character's body (ie. nonverbal communications) — without "telling" or interpreting. Mary's lectures make extensive use of well-documented cues that humans present in their faces, torsos, arms, legs, etc. when they're feeling emotions such as attraction, revulsion, fear, anger, and curiosity. Mary also covers clusters of cues that inform readers by structuring a more rounded picture than individual signals might accomplish.
Probably the most difficult concept to grasp in this course is recognizing the difference between choreography and body language. Body language shows evidence of deep emotion, the kind of emotion that slips out involuntarily, despite our efforts to conceal it. In that respect, Mary's definition of body language is akin to the "visceral" response that Margie Lawson teaches students to recognize in her online course "Empowering Characters' Emotions." In contrast, choreography is a more conscious, controlled response, even though it may carry some emotion.
Regardless of whether you label the deep emotional responses "body language" or "visceral," they're involuntary, unconscious. Use of this level of response with characters leads to more powerful writing. That's what we're after here: knock-your-socks-off writing.
I highly recommend "Body Language on the Page" for craft building. Thanks, Mary, for an excellent course!
This month, I'm taking another online course, "Paranormal Forensic Investigation," with Katherine Ramsland as instructor. I'll report on it in April.