A Writer’s Guide to Body Language

“Show, don’t tell” is often referred to as the first rule of writing, but how, exactly, are we supposed to show how our characters feel in a given situation?

We use body language!

Body language is how you communicate without words. You can use it in writing to enhance dialogue, give depth to a scene, offer a visual of your character, and add subtle foreshadowing to the plot.

However, too much body language can clutter your story and make it hard to read, so save it for those perfect moments when words won’t do.

Now, to the meat of it.

When we write body language, we like to tie them to an emotion. Rarely in writing does a person sit without reason or run their fingers through their hair for fun, which means the first step is identifying your character’s emotion.

How do they feel about the person or situation?

Once you have an emotion in mind, you can move on to the actual descriptions of their body. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

A Character who is Happy might:

Smile broadly
Light up
Speak excitedly
Jump up and down
Crinkle their eyes
Hum or whistle
Laugh
Chuckle
Grin
Dance
Spin with joy
Hug
Clap their hands
Pat someone’s arm
Relax
Lean back
Skip
Bounce
Stare lovingly at someone/something
Gesture with their hands

A Character who is Sad might:

Move slowly
Cry
Sob
Rub their eyes
Blow their nose
Sniffle
Contort their face
Slump
Walk slowly
Talk slowly
Wave a handkerchief or tissue
Avoid eye contact
Sigh often
Cover their face
Stare at nothing (Zone out)
Curl in the fetal position
Tremble
Refuse food or baths

A Character who is Angry might:

Clench their jaw
Narrow eyes
Clench their fist
Punch
Hit
Slap
Tense
Point or jab
Shove
Pull hair
Rub face or neck
Rub hands
Scowl
Lean forward
Cross arms
Wave arms
Widen their stance
Pace
Slam the door
Stomp around
Bare their teeth
Turn red
Throw things

A Character who is Nervous might:

Rub their hands together
Fidgit with their clothes
Bite their nails
Look around
Sweat
Sway as they stand
Bounce their leg
Play with their hair
Bite or lick their lips
Jump at noises
Avoid eye contact
Smile tightly
Keep hands in pockets
Lean away
Breathe rapidly
Pace
Stutter
Hold breath

A Character who is Disgusted might:

Recoil
Vomit
Gag
Hold their nose
Cover their eyes
Cover their mouth
Look away
Clutch their heart
Close eyes
Complain
Whine
Squirm
Crinkle their nose
Curl their lip
Back up
Run away
Turn pale
Sneer
Grimace

A Character who is feeling Spicy might:

Glance
Grin
Wink
Tilt their head
Smile gently
Brush a hand across the other’s arm
Blush
Maintain eye contact
Lean forward
Lick lips
Refresh makeup
Touch the other person
Hug
Kiss
Take off clothing
Swat the other person playfully
Offer drinks
Take their hand
Play with their hair
Stroke
Tickle
Snuggle
Lean into/against
Have sex

Obviously, these are only a few examples of body language. There are plenty of other ways to write body language, and I recommend checking out the Cheat Sheet for Body Language and Writing Body Language articles to learn more.

Remember, body language isn’t the focus of the story. Instead, use it to enhance a scene, add clues to the characters, and spice up the dialogue. A little body language goes a long way, so use it wisely!

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