“He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.”
– Sigmund Freud
There are countless books on the market which claim to be essential reading for authors. In all honesty, most of them are essential reading only for commercial authors, i.e. those writing with the express intention of being published and becoming financially successful. Very few books, I have found, truly transcend authors’ intentions, and indeed genre.
Well, here is one.
During the research phase for my upcoming psychological crime novel – Wasps In The Smoke, thanks for asking – I came across a book on nonverbal communication by an ex-FBI agent named Joe Navarro. Quite amusingly titled What Every Body Is Saying, this text is revelatory and fascinating, and, in my humble opinion, a reference tool which all authors should have close at hand.
The idea is fairly simple. It’s essentially a textbook on the intricacies of nonverbal communication – that curious and mysterious phenomenon which most of us like to call ‘body language.’ Packed with genuinely interesting, and often entertaining, anecdotes from Navarro’s real life experiences during a stellar career in this field of expertise, the book drives home the benefits of being able to read nonverbal ‘tells’ in almost context.
What the author does not mention in his introduction, however, is the beneficial effect that this information may have for writers. Yes, readers are taught how to read any number of tells, from pacifying strokes of the suprasternal notch to evasive eye-blocking, but for those of us who spend our time creating characters, plots and worlds in the realm of fiction, the wisdom on offer becomes so much more. It becomes a knowledge of subconscious behaviours which we can apply to any character at any time in order to lend our works validity and, in the process, shift the emphasis away from dialogue and towards action.
So comprehensive is the text that a suitable behaviour can be found for almost any emotion or situation. One particularly revelatory piece of information offered early on is that our feet are actually the most ‘honest’ parts of our bodies. This may seem strange, and I wonder how many writers have never given so much as a second thought to the ways in which their characters’ feet behave – certainly I was one of them until I read this book – but it’s true, and it’s explained in straightforward terms in What Every Body Is Saying without any unnecessary jargon or condescension.
I won’t go into too much detail concerning the contents of the book as that would perhaps be stepping on Mr Navarro’s toes. Instead, I will simply say that I highly recommend this book to any author, any writer, and in fact, anyone.