Body Language

As a writer all I have is my words. Words to bring the reader into the setting. Words to convey danger or passion. Words to make the reader fall in love with the characters even as they fall in love with each other. It’s not like a movie where a well orchestrated soundtrack strokes the viewer’s emotions, carrying them … biting their nails into the epic battle … or sighing with satisfaction into the first kiss.

Each word and phrase should create a visceral reaction in the reader. A reader whose emotions are involved in your story is a reader who continues to turn the page. No needy pet, ringing phone or burning dinner will pull a readers who’s emersed in your story from finishing the chapter. Hell, if you’ve done it really well … finishing the book. (Oh, come on, it’s happened to all of us. Raise your hand if you stayed up all night just to finish a book … yeah, I see you out there.)

As authors we have all kinds of tools in our writing kits to create our story and bring our characters to life. Dialogue, both spoken and internal is an immediate way to portray a character. The words they choose and how they’re spoken take a two dimensional character and give them depth. Are the words strong and bold or nervous and tentative? Are they quick to respond or thoughtful and use few words? We must think about all of that. A CIA agent might see the sun setting and think only of the convenience of night’s arrival and how that will help them hide their actions. An artist type would take time to notice the colors, how they mix with the clouds and take a moment to enjoy the scene.

What the characters are saying and what they’re thinking is important. But you can add another layer by including how your characters act and what their body language communicates. Especially if what they’re saying isn’t really how they’re feeling. Let’s look at some body parts and actions and the emotions it conveys.


HEAD
Lifted and tilted back = arrogance
Ducking head = submission
Head in hand = boredom

MOUTH
A smile quirked to the left = lying
Tight-lipped smile = keeping a secret
Licking lips = nervousness or attraction
Biting lip = shyness, insecurity
Trembling lip = sadness

EYES
Long, hard stare = anger
Furrowed brows = confusion
Slow blinks = hiding, avoiding scrutiny
Rubbing finger over eyelids = working to deceive
Wide eyes = surprise

ARMS AND HANDS
Clenched fist = anger
White knuckles = strong negative emotion (nerves, anger)
Steepled fingers = confidence

LEGS AND FEET
Dragging toes = reluctant
Tightly crossed legs = in a woman it’s protection
Crossed ankles = won’t compromise in an argument
Shifting weight from foot to foot = lying

Everything your characters do, every thought you share with the readers creates memorable characters. From the dating dance to the first kiss to the ultimate night of passion we offer our readers cues to the emotions of our characters. Skip the body details and you miss the opportunity to make your characters jump off the page and into the hearts of your readers.

So are there any body language moves I’ve missed that you really enjoy in a story? Any that are overused? And tell me some of your most memorable characters and why you just can’t get them out of your head and heart.

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