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Exercise: Non-verbal cues

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/).

Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Mon, 26 Mar 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 29 Feb 2004
Revised and reposted on: Sun, 22 May 2005


Experts say that the majority of communication is non-verbal. Body language, tone of voice, intonation, etc. For example, how often have we known something was wrong with a friend or loved one, even though that person hadn't said so?

The purpose of this exercise is to make us think about how we detect so much about the people around us. What are the physical signs that someone is angry, happy, tired, skeptical?

The assignment: in a passage of 300 words or less, describe a character using physical cues only (no dialogue, no "saying" or "telling" words) such that we know what that character is feeling. Don't tell us what that is: let us figure it out on our own.

Critics: When you critique, be sure to mention what you believe the character is feeling. As well, point out cases where the writer is telling rather than describing.

Extracurricular activity: for one day this week, pay attention to the body language of people you meet (strangers and acquaintances alike), and pay attention to how much you can tell about them without any words being exchanged. If you're feeling ambitious, try to see how different people use different signals and cues.

Extra activity: look for online sites which discuss body language; post any good examples here (using the subject line: "Disc: Non-verbal cues".)

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: Sat, 31 Mar 2001

When we started this list, I was afraid that with set exercises, we'd be getting submissions that would be too much alike, but that has certainly not been the case. Once again this week, we've seen a broad variety of approaches, both in what we wrote about and how we wrote it.

I need to make it clear that while I'm a teacher and administrator on these lists, I'm also a student, learning from my own submissions and by critiquing those of others. I know I have learned a lot about how to convey things by showing, through actions and physical cues. And I know, having done a submission of my own, that it takes some care to avoid falling into telling or exposition - like all other skills, of course, this is something that will get easier with practice, so I hope we all keep the lessons we learn here in mind as we tackle our own writing (especially in the revision phase, because until these skills become second-nature through practice, it's not possible to keep all these principles in mind as we write.

As always, thanks to all who participated.

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.