Speaking Without Words

Last night I went to see War Horse, which is an intense and powerful performance focused on a horse (and the humans around him) that fought in World War I.

Just a few minutes ago, my dog kicked his empty food dish.

While these two things seem totally unrelated, they both linked in my mind because they are great examples of communicating without words.

Eli let me know that his bowl was empty, and he was hungry, by banging the metal bowl and making a noise.  He’s learned that this will get my attention, and food will appear.  He will also carry his empty water bowl into the living room, if kicking it or knocking it around didn’t work.  He has figured out a way to let me know his needs, and get them fulfilled.

War Horse uses huge, three-person puppets as the horses, but you don’t really notice the puppeteers most of the time.  The horses breathe, flick their tails, and move their feet in the same way as real horses.  People ride them, too, which is amazing.  But the coolest thing to me is the expressions.

Horses have very expressive ears, and they communicate a great deal by posture.  The creators of the show and the puppeteers have done an amazing job of capturing that method of communication.  Even from the mezzanine, I could tell when the horses were scared, nervous, or curious, simply by their ears and body positioning.

Animals can (and do) communicate very readily without words.  As authors it behooves us to notice these details and perhaps have the opportunity to capture one or two in our writing.

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