Describing Body Language
Write Better, Right Now is a weekly post all about getting writers to understand deeper writing strategies to take their stories to the next level. For writers looking for open pitch calls, writing jobs, and challenges to grow their career and craft, check out last week’s 1-2-3 Publish post!
Write Better, Right Now’s topics for January:
- Evoking Strong Emotions (1/10)
- Replacing Sense Words (1/17)
- Describing Body Language (1/24)
- Original Metaphors and Similes (1/31)
If you’ve read the past couple of Write Better, Right Now posts, you’ll have noticed that I’m on a very particular writing kick this month. It’s all about making your characters, world, setting, and story come to life beyond the basics. Body language or how our characters are physically affected by the story they are in is a widely overlooked technique in writing.
Many stories I edit for various clients land somewhere between over describing their characters body language or forgetting their characters are more than just their emotions:
“Angry, Daryl decided he’d get payback by going after the coworker who ate his lunch and left him starving.”
I hate to say it, but the above example is boring essentially.
“Daryl swung his arm wild, slamming his empty paper bag in the trashcan as his stomach growled and his eyes searched the room for anyone to blame for eating his lunch.”
Small tweaks pinpointing body functions and reactions to events can make a line or moment go from being boring to pulling the reader into what the character is feeling. Body language is another aspect of your characters that gives your story a hint of truth, honesty, and authorial control.
She got up and went to the bedroom, aware that she was shutting down any opportunity to make up. She changed out of her clothes, put on a T-shirt and shorts.
When Leo came in, she was lying with her back to the door. He fumbled around in his suitcase, tiptoed to the bathroom, slipped into bed. There were a few minutes of what seemed like charged, mutual waiting. Then he was asleep.
Let’s get into it more below!
People are more than just the words they say or the actions they do. Throughout encounters, people give off micro-expressions that tell a story of what is going on behind or under their skin.
As writers, we are able to peer deeper into our characters to give our readers more of a story and character to cling to. Too often, writers fall back on stating emotions or painting emotions and leaving the character’s body out of the story.
In the published example shared above from The New Yorker, readers don’t need to know what events preceded the moment to understand how each of the characters in that excerpt feels. The author used body language to describe the emotions of each character, keeping the story moving forward and carrying crucial character development, perspectives, and personalities in just a few lines. As you explore and study this technique, note how professional writers sprinkle in body language only when it’s most effective and not for every movement.
Body language is more than just a stomp of the foot or the raise of an eyebrow. Body language includes:
- Facial Expressions
- Physical Appearnace
And you can use it to:
- Add depth to dialogue
- Connect character emotion to character action
- Add physical subtext and tension
- Create a specific dialogue or language for your characters
- Build character relationships
- Convey or show emotions
- Show characterization or character depth
But to make writing body language work for you within your stories, you’ll have to decide which emotions and reactions fit with certain adjectives, descriptors, or action verbs. Even though a character is angry, how they express that anger is going to change depending on who the character is, what the situation is, and what emotions you want to evoke during that moment.
For one week, take notes on how your body reacts throughout the days to different stimuli and situations. Do you notice certain aspects of your behavior or attitude are tied to specific body movements? Notice how your body reacts and study it.
Don’t stop with the internal workings, note how your body movements and positions affect the way people treat you. Experiment with your body language to see what results you can get by tweaking the way you place your hands, tilt your head, direct your eyes, etc. At the end of the week, take what you’ve learned about how bodies communicate and begin weaving it into your WIP.
Do you have a character who’s always mean? Consider having their body represent and hold their emotion, too. Describe how they walk into the room and how their body language changes the atmosphere and other movements or behaviors of characters. Think about how you can deepen your characterization and storytelling by adding physical responses to the story’s stimuli and events.
- Cheat Sheet for Writing Body Language
- Master List of Body Language for Different Emotions
- The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression
- How to Avoid Overused Body Language
- Body Language for Writers
- How Not to Write Body Language
If you were able to learn something new today, consider subscribing below to At Home Pro Writers to continue getting writing advice, links to open pitch calls, ultimate writing guides, and more. Or check out the writing and editing masterclasses I offer! And if you’re in need of a stellar creative writer or editor, let me know while my calendar is still open.
Please don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts on body language or how you use it in your writing! Catch you, next week for our Write Better, Right Now post on original metaphors and similes.