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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How Do Writers Show Body Language by Vonnie Davis

Writers have various ways of expressing emotion. I mostly use dialogue. Maybe because I like to talk, my characters talk a lot too. But, as writers, we also show emotions through body language. We all know hands on hips indicates a bad mood or anger. Think back to when your children were small. What things did they do to indicate they were fibbing or getting ready to plead for something they knew they shouldn't have?


Anger is one expression of fight-or-flight mode. It's an automatic, instinctive reaction to a threat. In many cases, there is an underlying fear of being harmed. Thanks to autonomic nervous system arousal, the heart rate increases, pupils dilate, and the face may flush. I have trouble remembering to use all these. I often add them on my second or third round of edits. Other signs of anger are:
  • Balling the fists
  • Crossing the arms tightly
  • Clenching the fists once arms are crossed
  • Tight-lipped smile
  • Clenched teeth
  • Shaking a finger like a club.
  • Stabbing or jabbing a finger at someone
  • Pupils dilate
  • Women will cross and uncross legs to draw attention to them
  • Mirroring (usually unconsciously) mimicking the other person's body language
  • Keeping the hands in the pockets (esp. men)
  • Arms and legs crossed
  • Sitting back
  • Folding the hands together on a table (creates a barrier)
  • The "figure-four" leg cross (setting the ankle of one leg on the knee of the other) and then grabbing the lower half of the top leg with both hands.
  • Exposure of the palms
  • Arms and legs unfolded
  • Leaning forward
  • Smiling, which is why some people smile when they're upset or afraid
  • Slumping the shoulders
  • Do anything to appear smaller
  • Men in particular have a tendency to stroke or rub the nape of the neck when they're upset. It acts as a self-soothing gesture to deal with a "pain in the neck."
  • Crossed arms, which act like a protective barrier.
  • Self-hugger--arms are crossed, hands gripping upper arms
  • Clutching a purse, briefcase or bag with both arms
  • Adjusting cuffs or cuff-links
  • Folding the hands together in front of the crotch (men)
  • Lying causes a subtle tingling in the face and neck, so the gesture below are attempts to eliminate that feeling.
  • Covering the mouth--can be like a shh gesture, or they may cover the mouth completely, perhaps by coughing. My ex used to yawn. Didn't take me long to figure that tell out.
  • Touching or rubbing the nose or just below the nose, often a quick, small gesture...not a scratch.
  • Rubbing the eyes...usually the men.
  • Scratching the neck with the index finger
  • Steepling of the fingers
  • Folding the hands behind the back
  • Thumbs sticking out from pockets when hands are in pockets...can be front or back pockets
  • Hands on hips
  • Straddling a chair
  • Hands folded behind the head while sitting up (in men; in women, this thrusts the breasts out and becomes sexual)
Now, as you read body language in books, you'll have a better feel for the language being conveyed. You'll be drawn more into the action.

For more about Vonnie Davis, she blogs at


  1. Vonnie, I didn't know that about the "figure four" pose. I loaned my body language book to someone who never returned it. Thanks for the review.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. I had to act out the "figure four" pose, because just reading about it didn't give me a visual. Sometimes I can be slow...LOL. Happy Thanksgiving, dear.

  2. What an insight! Thank you for sharing! Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Karren. I was happy to share. This is something I have to reread, myself, to refresh my mind.

  3. Vonnie, I still have my original copy of Body Language, the first book on this subject. Still a fascinating area, isn't it?


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