Movement and body language

The mechanics of movements such as walking, sitting and standing are essentially the same, but we all do them differently. The way we move depends upon a combination of factors, eg learned or inherited habits, our own personality and how our physical characteristics affect our actions. Emotions and experiences have a great bearing upon a character’s movement and body language. A confident person may have a very upright posture, with open body language and arms relaxed by their side. A less confident character may slouch and hold their arms crossed over their front with a guarded body language. You must consider all of these factors when developing a character.

Voice

If 38% of communication is attributed to tone of voice, then the vocal choices you make when developing a character are extremely important. Look at Using your voice to learn more.

Pace and pause

We rarely speak at the same pace for very long in real life. People speed up when they’re excited, stop in mid-sentence in order to think and slow down for effect when telling a story. Speech would be pretty dull if we didn’t vary the speed and rhythm. Keep this in mind when developing characters.

Pauses can build tension but make sure that the spaces between each character’s lines do not fall into a predictable or rhythmic pattern when you develop dialogue. The line that’s said before an actor speaks is called their cue. You might jump in quickly to respond to some cues, whereas on other lines you may pause after the cue line. The way you react as well as act is important when developing a character.

This clip from the BBC series, Sherlock, shows a scene between three actors. Notice the way the pace varies throughout the scene and the use of pauses for dramatic effect.

Mannerisms

We all have idiosyncrasies and habits that are particular to us. We might fiddle with our hair or shift our weight from one foot to the other. It’s important that you’re able to remove any habits of your own that might interfere with characterisation. When you develop a character, create a state of physical neutrality from which to build.

This clip from the BBC’s Arena programme shows various actors playing the role of Lady Macbeth. Notice their different mannerisms as they perform the famous sleepwalking scene.