Friday, 8 April 2011


The meaning of gestures is not universal. Yet, gestures offer a glimpse into your character’s thoughts without the need for interior dialogue. When most people talk, unless they concentrate on keeping their body under control, it is likely they will make unconscious hands and head gestures as they speak. The more subtle body movements reinforce their verbal message. Gestures are important because they 
reinforce what we are thinking or saying.


These gestures are open to cultural interpretation. Some common hand gestures could be totally misunderstood if your novel were to go viral and be read internationally.
Finger pointing is aggressive no matter which language your character or your reader speaks.
Open palms is a sign of honesty and openness and clenched fists is a sign of irritation and aggression so opening and closing fists would suggest a conflicted character working through two approaches to dealing with a problem.
Crossed arms or legs are defensive gestures.

Thumbs up –a gesture indicating “Great” translates to “up yours” in Australia, Iran and some other Muslim countries.
OK – thumb and index finger - used to show approval, it is considered obscene in Brazil, southern Italy, Germany and Greece. In Japan, this gesture signifies money.
V – the V gesture we hope means victory or peace needs to be carefully orientated if the palm is facing toward you, the gesture is considered obscene.
The beckoning gesture –formed by curling and uncurling the index finger - common in most countries translating as come here this gesture is offensive to Mexicans, Filipinos and the Vietnamese.

Gestures can add roundedness to your character. If the gestures they make become predictable. An unconscious gesture is often the turning point in a novel.

Psychologists put 10 English, 10 Mandarin Chinese, 10 Spanish and 10 Turkish speakers, together. They asked them to describe an action in a video in speech, then only with gestures.
What was remarkable was that, when asked to describe the same scenes using only their hands, all of the adults, no matter what language they spoke, produced the same order - subject, object, verb (woman knob twists, for example).
"The gestures that people produce when they speak are not universal but vary as a function of language - … speakers of different languages routinely use their hands in different ways but, when asked to talk with their hands and not their mouths, they all end up looking alike," said Prof Susan Goldin-Meadow."
The surprise for the experts was that when the speakers are asked to 'speak' with their hands they ignored the language conventions of their verbal language and they all use exactly the same order when they gesture.

garrulous, gauche, generous, genial, giving, glad, gloomy, gracious, grateful, gregarious, grieved, grumpy, guarded, guilty, gullible

No time to double check, I'm heading north :D


  1. Nice to meet you through the A-Z challenge! Hope to see you around!

  2. I bet that experiment would have been hilarious to look at!! Thanks for the great information on gestures....something really useful to remember while writing

    Following you from A-Z challenge!

  3. Ooh, very interesting G word. I think your right, we need to take advantage of gestures as a means of giving life to our characters. Great advice!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  4. Oooh! I love this. I found your around the world gestures - like thumbs up - very informative. I give my son a thumbs up all the time. If I ever get to Brazil, I'l make sure I don't do THAT. :)

    New follower from A-Z! Nice to meet you.

  5. Hi Bz
    I'm back so I'll be touring other blogs again.

    Hi Ju
    I used to think all gestures were universal.Then I found out perfectly harmless ones could be mistranslated ;)

    Hi Sarah
    I agree, gestures can be effective in bringing characters to life.

    Hi Alison
    It's not even safe to keep your hands in your pockets when you are travelling in other countries. Keeping your hands in your pockets is considered rude in some countries ;)