Body Language

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I found an article covering how to write body language into your story, so I thought I'd include it here. It has a bunch of great tips on what your character should be doing if they're feeling a certain way.


Body language can transform a fight scene from mere hack-and-slash into a riveting clash of bodies and souls. It can make an otherwise yawn-inducing argument so intense you forget to breathe. And it can take the wooden performance of a cardboard character and bring it to vibrant, messy, glorious life.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of dialogue, and there’s a ton you can do with it alone. You can express every emotion in the world, and a host of interesting subtexts with your choice of words, tone of voice, placement of dialogue tags, and so forth. But that’s just one language. Think of how much more you could do with two!*

 Because body language, when you think about it, is just that: a language. Providing layers of meaning and nuance, as well as fodder for some of the juiciest gossip and social drama. Which is awesome! Or at least, it is when you put it in the context of writing. By using body language to accent action, dialogue, and character interactions, you can:

Emphasize the Emotion by expressing the same thing with a character’s words and body language. (He’s really mad.) Complicate the Emotion by expressing one thing with words, and a slightly different thing with body language. (He’s mad, but with a side of guilt.) Contradict the Emotion by expressing one thing with words, and a contradictory thing with body language. (He’s saying he’s mad, but he’s actually super proud of me.)

And oh, the possibilities if you just weave in the body language for “lying” with any of the above (. . . Drama!). I get excited just thinking about it. Of course, unless you’ve thought about it a whole lot, using body language effectively can actually get a little complicated. So, to help get you started, I’ve come up with my top three tips for using body language, as well as a list of a bunch (41!) of different emotions—each with a few body language-erific ways to express it.

*Of course, the same could be said for the actions of fight scenes and the emotions of character interactions.

Keep It (Character) Specific

We all know from personal experience that when people get mad? It can be in a variety of different ways. Some people get loud, shouting, waving their arms, and generally losing control and making themselves look big. Others go quiet, cold, and calculating, talking in clipped sentences, crossing their arms, and generally tightening their control—and their defenses. There are even people who smile when angry. So what do your characters do? Are they hot or cold? Extroverted in their anger, introverted, or somewhere in between?

Character-specific body language is great for expressing personality, culture, and background. Just remember: body language is not some fancy new kind of sprinkles! It doesn’t just go on top; it should always be integral to the character and what they’re trying to express. And, as always, be sure to stay on the right side of that charming-cliché line.

Make Sure It Adds

Just as in dialogue, where we don’t really say everything a person would say (uhm, ah, er), it’s also good to be choosey about what body language you use.  For example, be careful when emphasizing an emotion expressed in dialogue with body language--if the concept is very simply put (“No!” She shook her head.) it can come off as repetitive rather than emphatic. In this case, you might be better served by using either just the dialogue or just the body language. And, of course, you can keep it from being too simple by playing with the timing. If a character emphatically shakes their head no for a bit before managing to find the words to properly express their presumably extremest of displeasure, well . . . that says something! Something more than just shaking your head “no.”

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