Body Language Cheat Sheet for Writers

Filed in Ask the Editor, Writing Tips by on October 22, 2020 0 Comments

Body language not only adds another layer of depth to your characters and writing, but it also provides another level for readers to connect with your ch...

A lot of first-time writers skip over portraying body language in their writing. They know it’s missing from their characters’ interactions, but they also aren’t sure how to include it either. To combat this, they try to mistakenly incorporate it into dialogue tags, such as “she smiled” or “he laughed.” But, if you think about it, we can’t smile words, and body language is about a lot more than smiling or laughing. The same experiences we walk through as humans—sadness, depression, jealousy, resentment—should all find their way into books.

Why Is Body Language Important?

Body language is important in writing because it not only adds another layer of depth to your characters—and your writing—but it also provides another level for readers to connect with your characters.

For instance, I have always been a hair-twirler. I do it without even realizing it. So, if I stumble upon a character who absentmindedly twirls her hair while she stares out a car window, I’m more likely to connect with that character.

How to Write Body Language In Your Writing

Understand what emotion or physical experience your character is going through, think about how a person in real life would react, both verbally and nonverbally (body language), and put it on paper. Here’s a cheat sheet for some common emotions and situations your characters might find themselves in:

  • If your character is angry:
    • She clenches her fists, slams a fist on a table or counter, crosses arms
  • If your character is anxious:
    • She holds her breath, twirls her hair, chews on a pen cap, has a posture
  • If your character is bored:
    • She yawns, rolls her eyes, struggles to keep her eyes open, taps foot on the floor, scribbles on a piece of paper
  • If your character is tired/fatigued/jet-lagged:
    • She stretches tight muscles, stares off, rubs her eyes, slow to respond, sips coffee, she takes a deep breath, and exhales
  • If your character is jealous:
    • She crosses her arms, she stares at the person she’s jealous of, she ignores the person she’s jealous of
  • If your character is sad:
    • Her lip quivers, her body shakes as she cries, she withdraws from people socially, she wraps her arms around herself, she collapses on the floor in tears
  • If your character is shy:
    • Her cheeks blush, she doesn’t make eye contact, she stands along a wall of a party by herself, she speaks in an almost whisper when introducing herself to someone

If you’re struggling to incorporate body language into your writing, go sit somewhere and people watch for a bit. Look for a couple in love and jot down notes about their body language toward each other. Spot someone who might be having a stressful moment of their day and pay attention to how they act and interact with others.

Looking for more writing tips? Visit our Ask the Editor section.

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About the Author ()

Erika Bennett has been a freelance editor for nearly half a decade. Before joining the Xulon team in 2010, she worked with several first time authors who wanted to test the waters of self-publishing. Her aim is to make sure great books find their way into readers' hands.

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