• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



Show Don’t Tell: Let the bodies do the talking

One thing I learned growing up in California was how to read body language. I was shy and not big on self expression so conversations were usually short and lacking in point. Out of shear self-defence, I learned to read what was really going on and to use my body to portray what words could not. I’ve got over the shyness eventually, but my body language radar has stayed, thank goodness. I use it every day in my writing.

 There are a lot of things to keep in mind when writing epic fantasy—world building, action, suspense, characterisation. Another key component is dialog and I am always looking for ways to ‘show not tell’ when it comes to my characters’ conversations. It’s tricky because they are actually telling when they speak. One way to ease back on the exposition in dialog is to use body language along with the words. Here is an example of what I mean.

 This is a short excerpt from Journey by Night, my most recent release. It’s a conversation between Kreshkali at age five and her Auntie Bess. First consider it with the body language and actions removed. Do we really know what’s going on?

 ‘What about Nell?’


‘Nell   . . . we can’t leave her behind,’ Kali said.

 ‘Fine. You can bring your teddy . . .

Next here it is as written in the text.

Tears welled in Kali’s eyes. ‘What about Nell?’


‘Nell,’ Kali said and pointed to her friend.

Auntie Bess knitted her brows.

‘We can’t leave her behind,’ Kali said.

Auntie Bess clicked her tongue. ‘Fine. You can bring your teddy . . .

Here the body language shows us how the characters are feeling without resorting to exposition.  We are never told what Kali or Bess feel but we’ve got a good idea. Below is the same conversation again with different body language. Keep in mind the actual dialog hasn’t changed one word. 

 Kali smiled, her hands going out to her sides as she twirled. ‘What about Nell?’


‘Nell,’ Kali stopped to point at her friend.

Auntie Bess tapped her chin.

‘We can’t leave her behind,’ Kali said.

Auntie Bess gave the child a hug. ‘Fine. You can bring your teddy . . .

 There are plenty of actions that show readers what’s going on without having to literally spell it out: Rub the back of your neck and look down? Lying! Point a finger and shout? Threatening! Cross arms and take a step back? Defensive! Fiddling with small objects and avoiding eye contact? Nervous as hell!

 But not all body language is universal. For example holding hands or looping arms with a person of the same sex in public in our culture is likely to be interpreted as a gay/lesbian relationship. In Japan, it’s a common behaviour between friends (two women or two men). I’m sure when books are translated for foreign publication, the body language has to be assessed for meaning as much as the words themselves.

 How about you? Is there a particular kind of body language you spot a mile away and think, I know what’s really going on? Share it if you do. I’d love to add to my repertoire.

5 Responses

  1. Well said, and very true! I love writing about my characters’ gestures and body language in conversation. Amusing, really, because I’m an Asperger, which means I’m not supposed to be able to recognise social signals like that!
    (I can, but I had to learn).

    • Maybe you recognise them even more because you consciously learned to. There is so little emphasis given to these subtle messages that we don’t often tune into our ‘gut feelings’ to assess or ‘read’ a situation. Why don’t they teach this awareness in school?

      But meanwhile, we know it without thinking when we read of a character scratching her head and leaning away from someone. She’s not on board with that one!

      Thanks for dropping in 🙂

  2. […] course writers know the old saying, show don’t tell. By letting characters portray their thoughts and feelings via actions and body language, readers […]

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