Friday, February 14, 2014

The Body Language of Attraction: Information for Writers


I got to observe Striker out of uniform, playing spy on a few heaven-sent operations. Men would instinctively become wary when he entered the room, closing their postures or moving away. The women would hold their ground, giving him long speculative glances. I watched them touch their hair and lift their breasts, subtle communications that they were interested, and his advances would be welcomed and rewarded. Back on those missions, I wanted to do that -- lift my breasts and bat my eyes at him to get him to notice me... ~WEAKEST LYNX 

He loves me? He loves me not?
Surely your intrepid heroine knows better than to rely on the petals of the daisy to tell her the truth -  the answer to her question is standing right in front of her.

Bodies rarely lie.

Your heroine looks beyond the words and judges whether this is a future love interest or this is a waste of her time.

The first rule of thumb is never assume. Making a determination is based on an accumulation of body language information. Some of the body language gestures that your heroine is looking for may be personality quirks that do NOT inform the communication. As an example, I have often been called out for playing with my hair - many a man has read that a woman touching her hair is a sign of sexual desire. And I'm not saying that this is incorrect in every instance of my playing with my hair - I'm just saying that in general my hair gets in my way, and I am constantly touching my hair. So this would not be a good "tell" for me. What you want your heroine to see is what changes, where does the character act differently.

A tell is a body language signal that is produced without thought. It signals information to a recipient. Some people are more dexterous in reading body language than others.

Flirtation -

English: A young girl kisses a baby on the cheek.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Women almost always begin the
   flirtation/courtship dance.
* Men pick up on the woman's body language
   and act. This is true unless a man has ulterior
   motives ex. he is looking for prey - if this is
   the motivation, then the man is looking for
   victim-body language which is a different
* Woman will spot a male that peaks her
   interest and watches him, holds eye contact
   a millisecond longer  than is normal.
* She will flick her hair to help ensure that his
   eye perceives her.
* Once a man is aware of a woman, if he is
   interested, he will wait for an approach tell. 
   This is the signal that he is welcome to make contact with the 
   woman. If she does not offer an approach
   tell to him, he will get no where if he tries to advance.

 What might this look like? She will:

* Catch his eye
* Smile
* Preen
* And possibly lift her chest.

English: Romance icon
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once he has approached

Signs things are going well -

* Think open - open eyes, open mouth, open gestures...
   Video Quick Study (2:44)
* Smiles (wrinkles below the eyes and at the outer corners shows 
   genuine smiling)
* Laughter
* Exposing the neck - a submissive flirtatious gesture
* Touching below the belt - thigh, bottom...
* Orienting the bodies towards each other - ignoring everyone else.
   Video Quick Study (2:03)
* Exaggerated facial expressions
* She leans towards you
* Mirrors your body language
* Flutters eyelids. This can also be a smokey room, an allergy,
   something in her eye...careful about jumping
   to conclusions - look for layers of tells not just one.
* If she crosses her leg, she will point it in a direction that will close the circle excluding others

Video Quick Study (2:48)
Video Quick Study (1:15)

Signs things are going badly -

* Crossing the legs or arms, especially for men doing the dreaded
   4 cross (an ankle across the knee) which
   effectively puts a bar between the two people.
* Belly buttons or feet facing away from the direction of the other 
* Controlled facial expressions
* Looking away
* A pat - is a release signal (different than a touch - this is a pat,
   pat, let go)

And going really badly -

* Tucking the chin as if to take a blow
* Swiping the tongue over the teeth - teeth being a primal defense 

So what's a girl to do to try to gain his amorous attention? She pulls out the big guns

* A woman will increase her preening and animation in order to
   hold the man's attention
* Head cants (tilt)
* Eye-pops - closing the eye for longer than a blink then opening
   the eye widely, fixing the man in her focus.
* Lip licks
* Hair flips and preening

Micro expressions

* Are universal - they are the same everywhere in the world no
   matter the educational level, gender, age, etc.
* Take place in less than 1/5 of a second.
* Unconscious and cannot be controlled
* Express the seven universal emotions:
`disgust - lines in the nose, lines under the eyes, contorting lips -
  doomesday for romance
`contempt - number one sign of a failing relationship. Asymetrical
 Video Quick Study

If either contempt or disgust are seen in the micro-expressions, it's over, walk away (unless these feelings are directed to a story line instead of the person, of course).

Here's hoping your heroine falls for a fabulous guy! I wish them all the best as they move through your plots twists toward their happily ever after. Sigh.

Video Study (14:38) a little long but you can see all of these tells in action with helpful commentary

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

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  1. After reading all this, it's no wonder people give and receive mixed signals so often.

  2. You're absolutely right - especially since in many of the western countries girls are socialized to behave in flirtatious ways when they don't necessarily mean it - they're just being polite. This leaves the poor man (who's brain perceives differently than a females and is in general not good at picking out subtleties) in a very difficult spot.

    My go-to is belly button direction. If nothing else, you can see where her interest lies - in your direction or out the door. Best of luck!


  3. Men do a lot of communication through body language too, but we do tend to be more direct than women. I do think some of it is socialization.

    I guess Valentine's Day did call for heroines running into a different type of guy than the usual guys encountered in the articles stalking, drugging, and locking them in the trunk.

  4. Yes, well a girl can hope, LOL.

    And about men - direction of their belly button, uncrossed, leaning forward, open and attentive are all good signs. There are some bad signs too, but I'll save that for future articles on narcissism, sociopaths, and psychopaths and dating.


  5. Great information, but I go for bald gals. I'm kinda confused. (joke) Wonderful tips & THANKS.

  6. Great tips! Thanks for sharing this information. I'm incorporating a recent male initiated flirtation gone awry into a new story I'm working on and those signals can be misconstrued easily. Reading over these has me wondering if I somehow "accidentally" initiated the response, or if he was just "on the hunt".

  7. Excellent! Always looking for things like this.

    1. So glad you found it helpful, Lalo.


  8. Great post, Fiona. And it's the perfect timing since I'm going to begin revisions on my contemporary romance this weekend, and I need to layer in more body language and emotion.

    1. I'm so glad, Reese. Also, if you look under the psychology tab you'll see "How to Get Your Heroine LAid in 12 Easy Steps" It's the follow up of this article and deals with romantic body language.

      Happy plotting!

  9. Contempt isn't an emotion. It's a product of disgust and anger. Their are 8 basic emotions, the two you missed were acceptance and anticipation.

    Other than that, great discussion on body language.