Writing Tips & Advice
Body language: the non-verbal communication of emotion, state of mind, or state of physical well-being.
Research shows that in real life thoughts, emotions, and feelings are conveyed three different ways:
7% verbal – what is saidWriting is no different--it’s important to convey to your readers what thoughts, emotions and feelings are flowing
38% vocal - how it is said
55% non verbal - facial expressions, posture, gestures, etc.
through your characters. It takes a certain skill to create visuals of a character’s movements in the reader’s
mind, to make the characters seem like real people rather than stick characters moving around on the page.
Using body language can help to effectively accomplish this.
Body language makes your characters come alive, exposing things about them you can’t convey any other way.
Consider every part of the body when showing body language: Head, hair, forehead, face, eyebrows, eyelashes,
eyes, ears, nose, nostrils, mouth, lips, teeth, jaw, chin, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, hips, legs, feet,
The tricky part is to create the emotion as though the character is doing it unconsciously. Here is a good
example from “Oscar and Lucinda” authored by Peter Carey, where Oscar’s bashfulness and Lucinda’s initial
sympathy and then embarrassment are depicted through their body language.
He held out his arms as if he might embrace her and then brought them back across his chest and
hugged himself and hunched his back a little…
Lucinda duplicated his stance without meaning to; that is, she hugged herself, kept her arms locked
firmly around her own body while she felt the space between them as if it were a living thing.
There is a wonderful tool I use https://onestopforwriters.com/ that helps writers develop their characters through
body language. The free tools on this site are nice, but the more advanced ones that cost are excellent.
Following are a few examples of ways to convey body language. For a more comprehensive list, click here.
Contracted brows, chin up, chest out, clenched teeth/fist/jaw, tight lips, frown, clasped hands behind head, tense mouth, flared nostrils,
high-pitched voice, facial/neck flush, hands on hips, staring, sneering, loud voice, rapid voice, brow muscles moved inward and
slamming things, bared teeth, legs apart, finger pointing
Legs crossed with slight foot kick, head resting on hand, eyes downcast, yawning, hand supporting chin or side of face, hands in
pockets, consistently looking around, doodling, tapping toes, repeatedly looking at clock/watch, slouching, leaning against wall
Brisk direct walk, direct eye contact, palms down, stands tall, hands clasped behind head, legs crossed, controlled voice, head held
high, chest forward, shoulders back, hands behind back, feet apart, chin up
Looking at a person from head to toe, continual glancing, running hands through hair, eye catch and then look away, eyelash flicker,
shoulder glance, moistening lips, parted lips, flicking hair, head tilt, self-touching, leaning forward, chest out, shoulders back, stomach
in, cowboy stance (thumbs in belt loops, fingers pointed toward genitals), room scanning, mutual smiling, smiling with tilted/cocked
head, foot touching, preening, leaning in
Crossed arms, Adam’s apple jump, biting nails, increased blinking, forced laugh, one arm across body clasping other arm by side
(females), handbag held in front of body (females), adjusting things, looking to sides, clenched hands, stuttering, fidgeting, fumbling,
locked ankles, jiggling money/keys in pocket, tugging on ear, clutching object tightly, pacing
Flashbulb eyes, widened eyes, raised (curved up) eyebrows, open mouth, sudden backward movement (jump), backward head tilt,
head jerk, hand clasped over mouth, dropped jaw, steps back, tense muscles, wrinkled forehead, shrieking, screaming
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