Thursday, 7 April 2011


Facial expressions are outward manifestations of internal conflicts. 

The fleeting alterations in visual, nonverbal communication, implies the stages from reaction and realisation through to acceptance and finally to action.

In the facial expressions, the writer can show:

a)    Character traits
b)    Thought processes
c)    Physical appearances – muscles, lines, moles
d)    The character’s reactions to others’ changing perceptions

There have been many studies which show the near perfect universality in nonverbal communication: body language and facial signs.

Our command of language is highly evolved. The spoken and written word can convey the sense of place and time and the human condition. Neither medium is perfect, otherwise, in time of our greatest joy or sadness, we would not revert to being speechless.

Facial expressions are a window into the personality – the unguarded version, who would not be chosen as the PC spokesperson – they can be used to show the character’s temperament and attitudes.

In a photograph or painting an artist can capture an emotion. Specialists believed the face can reveal static characteristics (the study is sometimes called physiognomy.)

When I was eleven I found a book in a jumble sale: The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace first published 1905. This paragraph, on page 6 (ie page2) came after an extensive description of Thery. I knew what he looked like but

“Signor Paolo Mantegazza, Director of the National Museum of Anthropology, Florence, has done Thery the honour of including him in his admirable work (see the chapter on ‘Intellectual Value of a Face’); hence I say that to all students of criminology and physiognomy, Thery must need no introduction.”

The word "physiognomy" drove me to distraction. I couldn’t sound it properly, my Dad had never heard of it and when I looked up “physiognomy” in the dictionary I couldn’t understand the definition.

The theory my English teacher helped me research threw my world out of orbit: it was the idea that you can judge a book by its cover. 

I remain fascinated by all things psychological.

Facial expressions? Long before Tim Roth brought micro-expressions to the front of people’s consciousness ;) I made sure I judged people by what they did.

fair, fallible, fanatical, fascinated, fawning, fearful, fearless, fed up, fervent, fickle, fiery, fixated, flirtatious, flustered, foolish, forlorn, free, fretful, friendly, frightened, frustrated, fulfilled, fuming, furious

Seen any fantastic facial expression lately?
I'm going with Charlie Sheen.


  1. Nice post. I see interesting facial expressions everyday, mostly bewilderment...An expression my husband is getting vey good at.

  2. Hi Siv Maria
    Bewilderment is a sad expression. My husband has tried that - he worked his way there from scepticism. That has to be a good thing. ;)

  3. I love how you're doing the A to Z challenge with the lists of feelings each day. Great post!

  4. So true. Facial expression and non verbal communication is VERY strong in real life and fiction.
    Charlie Sheen is a good one. LOL

  5. Great post! I try to incorporate facial expressions in my writing as much as possible. Good luck with the challenge!

  6. Hi Sarah
    Thank you. :D
    I think I've challenged myself by trying to make 26 posts on characterisation both alphabetical and interesting ;)

    Hi Jennifer
    Thanks :)
    Facial expressions is the key to so much more than the words people say. Poor Charlie.

  7. Hi Laura
    I do that too. I use facial expressions most when someone is trying to hide something.

  8. Excellent post with a laugh out loud moment for me. I rarely laugh out loud, I'm a smile person when something is humorous. But that quip on Charlie did it.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

  9. Hi Nancy
    Thank you. :D
    So many photos were taken of Charlie during his rant and everyone was a winner ;)

  10. Stopping by during A to Z Challenge.
    Yes, facial expressions can be quite revealing. The absence of them can be, too.
    I like your list of feelings at the end of your post.

  11. Hi Susan
    Thanks for stopping by.
    Facial expressions are a real telling feature. I agree the absence of them is hugely telling too :)

  12. Hmm. Charlie Sheen. Whole body expression for him. But you are right. I have one of those faces that looks displeased unless I am actively smiling. And I am a humorist, constantly saying stuff to get a laugh. One of the reasons people laugh at what I say is that they are surprised to see this woman who looks quiet and really not all that friendly go up to the mike and let 'er' rip, so to speak. I will be following you to see what you have in store for us on the A-Z.

  13. I enjoyed this!! A really great F post. Non-verbal expressions are very important in our writing, I try to use this often. ;-)) And, you know I've yet to catch up on the Charlie Sheen story...I know he's done something bad but I don't know what it is. I

  14. Hi Jeanne
    Wow! Humorist? I'm in awe. Thanks for following my A to Z - it's Characterisation all the way ;)

    Hi Talei
    Thanks *grins
    I separated non-verbal communication so I could have facial expressions for F.
    Charlie committed career suicide and made Christian Bale's Batman rant look like a reasonable conversation.

  15. LOL! Yes Charlie Sheen would top the lot! Or Mr Bean :O)