Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Non-Verbal Communication

How is it that I can write a passage one day and it provokes an emotional reaction in me, and then I can write a passage another day and it feels flat and emotionless?
Take my opening to Tethered Light: I was sat with it last night, reading through, feeling not very much for it. I began working on it, line by line, digging for something deep within. I can't quite say how, but by working so microscopically, I began to change my reaction to the words. Note that the story has not changed: it's just the words and descriptions I'm using, and he choices I'm making to tell my story.
I drew my opening scene, which just so happens to unfold over a sunset (Down Jack, down! The sunset is an important plot device!). I find that drawing my settings and characters helps me; I can remove some of the blurred edges that inhabit my mind's eye. And then I began searching for the perfect words for each job, trying to lose myself to this world and its characters, trying to feel and subsequently convey Penpa's wonder at this dazzling scene, trying to wring emotions from my prose. The change in my response was dramatic: I began to feel something magical, something tinged with a profound loneliness.
But what was happening? Where was this emotion coming from? Was it the change in balance that occurred as I added lines here and deleted them there, focusing for longer on this and playing down that? Or maybe the words and combinations of words were fusing together, fermenting to forge these stronger emotions?
One thing's for sure: I'm not sending my manuscript out until it has me weeping and laughing and clenching my fists in anger.

I've come across Margie Lawson, who seems something of an expert in emotions in writing. I like Margie. She claims that a good writer is like a hypnotist, suspending the reader's disbelief and holding him a trance-like state.
From what I can tell, Margie suggests that the key to eliciting emotional response is to write subliminally. She tells of kinesics, haptics, proxemics, facial expressions, and of paralanguage; she discusses ideomotoric shifts and proprioceptive stimuli.
All very scary words!
But they all refer to non-verbal communication - to writing between the lines and to subliminal impressioning.
Ready to dive in ..? I think it'll be worth our while.

Ray Birdwhistell suggests that 'No more than 30 to 35 percent of the social meaning of a conversation or an interaction is carried by the words.' Ray was the first person to use the word kinesics.
Kinesics is the interpretation of body language.

Haptics is the study of touching behaviour.
We've looked at the power of kinaesthesia in terms of Primary Representational Systems.
Touch is a very intimate thing. I do remember watching The Life Aquatic and feeling very little for the movie until, by way of consolation, all of Steve Zissou's friends placed their hands on his shoulders. It was a very powerful moment; I can't see how the same effect could have been achieved with words.

Proxemics is the study of personal space.
I'm sure you've met people who stand too close to you when they speak. It's a most uncomfortable feeling. And there you have two very easy-to-implement opportunities to create a lingering emotional response in your reader: your character stands very close to somebody; your character is approached by somebody who stands very close to him. You can use proxemics from both perspectives.

'Paralanguage refers to the non-verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion. Paralanguage may be expressed consciously or unconsciously, and it includes the pitch, volume, and, in some cases, intonation of speech. Sometimes the definition is restricted to vocally-produced sounds. The study of paralanguage is known as paralinguistics.'
[N.B. I've just copy-and-pasted from wikipedia.]

'The ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously (i.e, without conscious awareness).'
[N.B. Also copy-and-pasted from wikipedia. I'm certainly not claiming to know about these things!]

Proprioception is an interoceptive sense, rather like an internal version of the exteroceptive senses, such as taste and smell, etc. Julius Caeser Scaliger described it as a 'sense of locomotion.'
In proprioception, bits of your body know where other bits are and what they're up to.

I daresay that non-verbal communication is not the last word in emotional stimulae, but I can see its significance.


R1X said...

It'd be nice to see the difference between those first few paragaphs of Tethered Light.

solv said...

A writer's only as good as his latest work!
However, I have posted my latest work and you'll be able to compare it with even latest future works.
Natch, I'll be flinging the finished opening chapter upon your virtual lap very soon. I'm still wrestling with the king and queen characters. I've decided to infuse their scene with clandestine sexual keywords.