Research shows that in real life thoughts, emotions and feelings are conveyed three different ways:
- 7% verbal – what is said
- 38% vocal – how it is said
- 55% non verbal – facial expressions, posture, gestures, etc.
Writing is no different–it’s important to convey to your readers what thoughts, emotions and feelings are flowing through your characters. One way to do this is by revealing their body language.
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 Voice Chin Neck Shoulders Arms, hands, fingers Hips Legs, feet, toes
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.
Following are a few examples of ways to convey body language. Click here Body Language for a more comprehensive list.
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 downward, furrowed brows, leaning forward, snarling, invasion of body space, abusiveness, shouting, silence, throwing things, 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 u
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