Tuesday, April 5, 2022


Paula Priamos: What Handwriting Reveals About Your True Self

There is something intimate and chilling when a person uses their own hand jotting words down. It is a back door look, an inside view into their mood, motivations and psyche. If, say, a person leaves a letter out to the side of a word, it might suggest arrogance or self-involvement, not simply the scrawl of someone writing in a hurry. If the ink is too dark, the writer has pressed down too hard from pen-to-page and could very well be losing control of their temper. This could indicate impatience of the sort that may lead to deadly consequences. 

As a writer and English and creative writing professor, I am constantly extrapolating meaning from the actual words on the page. Language, in its oftentimes beautiful complexity, and the force with which we use it to communicate takes us to a whole new level of understanding. But I’ve become increasingly fascinated by looking beyond the meaning of words and instead at how they are literally formed by the hand of the writer. 

That curiosity was a big part of why I wrote my new suspense novel Appraise Her. I wondered what might happen if a woman working with the police as a handwriting analyst suddenly found herself overwhelmed by the dark intentions, the twisted minds of the people whose crimes were revealed to her well before they ever became aware to the authorities through taped or even written confessions. Would that knowledge bleed into her personal life? Would it haunt her? Make her question those closest to her? Make her want to forget everything she’d ever learned on the subject? 

In my novel I have a young man who falsely confesses to a horrific crime in order to avoid being physically abused by the man who murdered his mother. He’d feel safer in prison than he would at home. Not only does he falsely confess but by the repetition of words, the way he hesitates, pressing the lead of his pencil on one word over another, he unknowingly points the guilt directly at her killer – his stepfather. 

In order to write the novel I consulted multiple books on handwriting analysis. I poured over them. I became aware of well-known criminals of the past and present and how their particular penmanship revealed cruel qualities about themselves. I found out how important each word is on the page, how it is spaced out, the cold emphasis of one word over another. 

Nothing in a sentence should be discounted. 

It is an intriguing process, one that is not always accurate, which sometimes leaves it up to debate on its effectiveness in criminal investigations. 

As for my protagonist, the former handwriting analyst, she moves on and becomes a real estate appraiser for high-end properties in the Los Angeles area. Years later, she finds herself receiving handwritten notes left by someone who obviously knows of her former occupation. The notes are stark and written in different penmanship, from all capital letters of a note left under the windshield wiper of her car to the drastic measures of two words spray painted on a wall. 

I made the decision to include the real notes in the narrative so that readers may analyze them along with my protagonist, sense the fear she feels and see what she sees. The goal is to allow for the reader to participate in the story, peering over the main character’s shoulder. 

So often I read thrillers where, if notes are used, they are printed in the text of the narrative using italicized or bold font. I’ve read a couple where the notes are supposed to be letters cut from magazines and still a standard computer font is used. To me, I find that distracting and a reminder that the notes are unreal. Of course, they’re fictitious, but my imagination shouldn’t have to come up with that too. 

For Appraise Her I worked with a few people who offered to write notes for me in their own distinct penmanship, and yes, one who got a little crafty and spray painted two words on a background. The results were exactly as I’d hoped. They appear sinister or unhinged. I was able to include them in the narrative at the exact parts of the story in which they appear and my hope is that they contribute menacingly well to the plot, so that the reader just might figure out who is behind them at the same time as my protagonist – right near the end. 


Paula Priamos is the author of the memoir The Shyster's Daughter, Inside V, the Foreword Magazine Gold Winner for Best Suspense Novel and the forthcoming thriller Appraise Her (April 2022). Priamos's essays and/or short stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Zyzzyva, The Washington Post, and Crimewave Magazine, among other publications. She teaches English and creative writing at California State University, San Bernardino.

1 comment:

Nancy Lynn Jarvis said...

What an interesting post. I was a Realtor for many years who would right notes to myself after each meeting or phone conversation with clients. Rereading them brought me back to the feelings I had as I wrote. I tried using a computer, but the words were all I could take away from the notes, so I went back to hand written notes.