41 Flavors of Body Language for Writers

WritersdontcryThe Many Emotions of EmoticowsBody 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:

  1. Emphasize the Emotion by expressing the same thing with a character’s words and body language. (He’s really mad.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.

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Comments (5)

Cool--a cheat sheet!

*yoink* :)

Posted by: Stewart | Tuesday January 22, 2013 at 6:44 PM

Wow, comprehensive post! The best current writer at body language, for mine, is Joe Abercrombie. His fight scenes especially are masterpieces.

Posted by: David Sage | Wednesday January 23, 2013 at 1:38 PM

Stewart: I hope you find it helpful! :)

David: I was reading Joe Abercrombie when I wrote this post! Coincidence? ;)

Posted by: Susan J. Morris | Wednesday January 23, 2013 at 3:31 PM

This list will be so helpful! Thank you! I don't express my emotions too much outwardly, so writing body language for emotions has always been a struggle of mine.

Posted by: Anonymous Writer | Friday August 1, 2014 at 8:15 PM

Bless you. Excellent list.

Posted by: writer chick | Wednesday October 1, 2014 at 5:19 PM

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