How To Use Body Language in Your Story Telling

wxpressionThere is more to a good story than the words you use. With body language you can capture attention, create atmosphere, emotion, and draw in your audience. The grimace on a storyteller’s face as you hear what somebody just stepped in, deep thunderous breaths as the big bad wolf huffs and puffs, it’s the the non verbal part of storytelling that ensnares the imagination and engages the senses. It also happens to be a lot of fun to do.

If you haven’t had a chance to read our post on Adventure Storytelling, please take a look. This is really a companion piece that introduces the art of using body language to enrich your storytelling and lead to more exciting stories for both the storyteller and his listeners.

There are many different non-verbal actions you can use to embellish your stories, you can use them to set the tone or mood of your story, to add surprise, show emotion, create different characters and make them believable. Consider some cartoon characters, such as Wile E. Coyote or Gromit, both mostly non-verbal characters, whose emotions, thoughts, and reactions are told entirely through body language. They demonstrate the breadth of Body Language, with Wile E. coming in as extremely exaggerated, while Gromit’s reaction are much more subtle, communicating a huge amount of information with a single lift of an eyebrow. In fact, if you’re keen to see just how much information and emotion can be conveyed strictly through non-verbal cues, I highly recommend the Wallace and Gromit movies and shorts. If you go to Gromit’s webpage, flip through “Gromit’s Pictures” until you find the one with Gromit, a rolling pin, & a penguin, take a minute to absorb all of the information in that single picture. Two non-verbal characters and an inanimate object, yet there’s more emotion conveyed in a single thirty-minute episode than your average Hollywood blockbuster. That particular picture is from the short “The Wrong Trousers” and it’s totally worth watching.

Even just incorporating a few non verbal elements to your story will make them more interesting. If you allow the story to flow through you, you will probably find yourself naturally incorporating more body language as the story unfolds. Here are some different ways you can incorporate body language into your story telling.

Eye Motions – Your eyes can convey ore meaning in a  single glance then you could explain in a hundred words. Using eye motions is an easy way to covey deep emotion.

  • Rolling your eyes demonstrates boredom, disapproval, and arrogance.
  • Slightly raising your eyebrows shows curiosity.
  • Raising both eyebrows and widening your eyes shows surprise.
  • Moving your eyes from side to side convey shiftiness and sneakiness.
  • Casting you eyes down shows shyness.

Facial Expressions – Google “facial expression chart” and you’ll see how emotions are usually drawn on cartoon characters, which is a great tool to study what different emotions look can like.

If you are on stage or take acting lessons, it’s a common exercise to practice emotions and make them as big as you can. Imagine you are on the stage of a big theater and the room is packed – even the person way at the very very back of the room must be able to see your expression, be it happy, sad, or scared. You have to Make It Big so they can see. This is a great game to play on rainy days with the kids too! If you’re working with very young children, try it during a game of “Simon Says.”

Hand and Arm Gestures – In my travels I have noticed that many cultures talk with their hands, from the smallest gesture to exaggerated arm-waving. We don’t tend to be as expressive here in Canada, and I think it’s a shame. Using hand and arm gestures is a quick way to demonstrate many emotions and to even punctuate our words with some visual interest.

  • Fold your arms around your body to show insecurity and create a physical barrier.
  • Open arms suggest an open and welcoming attitude.
  • Show nervousness by wringing your hands together, or rub them together for the classic indication of greed and deceit!

You can also use arm and hand gestures to show if something is heavy or light, or to simulate pushing or pulling.  For example, if your main character is given a small silk bag, as he reaches out for it, drop your arm like a lead weight! Use both hands as you struggle to lift it, now, don’t you think your audience is going to be awfully curious to find out what is in that bag?

Body Actions – There any numerous actions you can do to make your story more interesting. this could include jogging in place as you tell about a character running from a dragon. You could pace, pretend to sleep, jump, crouch, stretch as high as you can (I have done this many times during new versions of Jack and the beanstalk)  Clap your hands, thump your feet. The more body actions you can use in your stories the more exciting they will be!

You may feel a little silly at first, but incorporating body language into your story telling will allow your story to  be rich, vivid and come to life. If you have the chance take your child to a performance by a professional storyteller and see how they seamlessly incorporate body language to leave you spell bound.

What is your favorite action to incorporate into your story telling? Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how to use your tone, pitch and even sound effects to add drama and excitement  to your Adventure stories!

Posted in Activites/Games, Communication.

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