A way with worlds: 42 - Without Words
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
You've got your own (or
borrowed) world. You know the language. It's so well designed
it'd put Tolkein to shame. You've got terms, you've got slang,
you've got speech patterns. Your world has communications!
No, it doesn't. Not
Language, speech, is just
one method of communication, and there are many more methods. In
designing your world, its inhabitants, its cultures, and in
writing your stories you have to deal with non-verbal
communication as well.
This is also important in
writing. People do not just stand around and speak (though in
some stories it may read that way). They gesture, they look for
clues in a person's eyes, they wear clothes to give people a
certain impression. Writing people is more than writing about
what they say.
A picture may be worth a
thousand words, but so can a gesture, a symbol, or an expression.
Below are common areas of non-verbal communication you'll want to
deal with in designing your settings.
Blushing, stammering, turning pale - all forms of
communication even if we'd rather they not happen.
Our bodies communicate a
number of ways that our minds are not necessarily involved in.
Sometimes we can control these reactions, sometimes we can't -
and characters may vary in what sets off these involuntary
actions and if they can suppress them.
If you're designing
non-human races, be aware of these kinds of communication as
well. An alien's tentacles may twitch when he's nervous, or a
fish-person's gills turn blue when he's embarrassed. Learning
these involuntary actions can even be a vital part of some
We've heard the term "speaking with our
hands," and if you think about it, gestures can play an
enormous part of communications. Peace signs, shaking hands,
putting a finger to one's lips to indicate silence, winking
knowingly - all forms of communication.
Gestures, like words, can
vary widely between different cultures, but all are simply using
more than the mouth to communicate information. Watch people in a
conversation for a few minutes and notice how much is said by
gesture. Also, if there are people who gesture's give away too
much they may try to restrain themselves as gesture verges on an
Gesture's cousin and sister to involuntary actions. We
rely on expressions a great deal, but we rarely think of them. A
smile, a frown, a snarl can say a great deal. Some may be
deliberate, some may not be.
Humans are very
facially-oriented. Indeed, one of my hobbies is learning to draw,
and I started with the human face. The level of detail on one
face is amazing, even in simple styles - on one face you have a
mouth (with lips and teeth), two eyes, two eyebrows, and skin
that can turn a variety of shades.Next Page
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.