Sitting around a conference table the other day, several of us were talking about the difficulty of communicating with a group of people by way of a conference call. You can’t see their faces, their body language, anything about their reactions to someone else’s words, all those little ways people communicate their meanings “between the lines” of spoken speech. Being certain of everyone’s intentions will take time, a bit of work, back and forth questions and answers. Of course, if several people are on one continent and several others on a different continent, that’s probably the best you can do.

Today as I recalled the discussion we’d had about this, I started thinking about the humorous serial mystery story I’m writing.

You can say “She is pretty,” with a matter-of-fact tone, and the listener interprets your sentence to mean you think that “She,” whoever She is, is pretty. If you say it with your eyes closed and a big smile on your face, the listener knows you think She’s pretty, really more than pretty, beautiful even.

However, if you say it while rolling your eyes, the listener knows you think that She is just the opposite of pretty.

How do you get those body language nuances to communication into written speech? Writing with more than words takes some work, it takes some meditation, planning, editing.

Descriptions help.

“Can I help you?” she said, her brow wrinkled, a pencil clenched between her teeth. Her hands fiddled with a stack of grammar school papers she was grading, trying to keep them from escaping the surface of her desk.

Well, obviously this person doesn’t really want to help you, she wishes you’d go away and leave her alone.

“Can I help you?” she asked, smiling as she put her pencil down and swiveled her desk chair around to face me.

This is a welcoming greeting, an offer to help that seems genuine.

Of course, when you’re writing mysteries, or spy novels, or adventures, descriptive phrases, descriptions, adjectives and adverbs may change the scene altogether.

“Can I help you?” she asked, smiling as she put her pencil down and swiveled her desk chair slightly to face forward. Her left hand beneath the edge of her desk first pressed the hidden button to summon the security guard, then barely moved to grasp the small handgun she kept in an alcove beside the button, just in case.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to be more observant as I go about my daily routines, notice things and file them away in the back of my mind for use in writing. Suggestions of hidden meanings or hidden motives, hidden in a facial expression, the shifting of a gaze or shrug of a shoulder.

All should make for more interesting reading.

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