characters / writing

How Your Body Tells a Story As Well as Words Do

Why is it that when you look at certain people, you think they’re pleasant or kind, or maybe even mean? Before they say a word, you make judgments about whether you want to saunter over and listen to their words.

It’s their body language–the set of their mouth, their facial expressions, their gestures. Often, these are movements they aren’t aware of, but telegraph so much information to you, you make decisions about your interest in approaching them.

This is true with the characters in the books you write, too. If you write about characters, it can’t just be their actions and their dialogue. You have to show us when they frown at something that happens, when they peer into a crowd looking for a friend. How they use their hands–or don’t use them–as they speak. When they scratch their ear and look down or hug themselves when they’re upset. These are the parts that endear a character to the reader, make us worry about or for them, or cause us to fear them. Leave them out at your own peril.

Here are about fifty descriptors that cover the head area–eyes, mouth, neck, etc:


  • His voice trailed off; the conclusions was inescapable
  • Spoke in a hoarse whisper
  • Said with weary resignation
  • Hollow voice
  • Voice low and gravely
  • Voice thick with conviction, guilt, etc
  • She asked between bites of calamari
  • Voice cracked and raw
  • Speaking in quiet tones
  • Hadn’t realized she was holding her breath
  • Breathy explosion of words
  • Tone weary, but cheerful


  • Dropping into topics she cared passionately about but she didn’t comment
  • He wondered briefly
  • Segued to a different topic
  • Looked left and right before starting
  • Jane waited until he grunted back
  • Jane fished his name out of the fog of conversation
  • She refrained from adding, “”
  • “my thinking is”
  • “I’m of the opinion that”
  • his grammar and syntax were good
  • She digressed
  • Her words seemed to lead me close, in hopes I’d provide my own answers
  • The comment wasn’t a question
  • She took his word for it
  • Something nagged at the edge of his consciousness
  • waiting, he had time to decide that if
  • Some unconscious process forced him to shut down, let his mind go blank, and work on a problem
  • Waited through another lengthy silence My mind flooding with questions
  • seemed about to speak, but the thread eluded him
  • stared through him
  • focused on an empty space in the air between them
  • looked for a common theme, a thread of some sort
  • She frowned–cdn’t recall the incident
  • Heard little and cared less
  • Hovering over her shoulder
  • He waited for me to speak
  • Scratched his cheek
  • His face hardened in concentration
  • Thinking about my conversation with the old detective
  • And how about those green beans


  • Voice low, tone uncertain
  • Something like a sigh
  • Words were slurred and lisping
  • Mouth turned up a fraction of an inch
  • Spittle on his lips
  • His thin voice took on a pedantic tone
  • The babble of talk died at his entry. He blinked as his eyes adjusted.
  • No, yes, maybe, I don’t know—Shit! She yelped
  • I sense a but coming
  • Yes, she lied
  • “I don’t know” Again, too rapid
  • Breath came in ragged gasps
  • Anger crept into his voice
  • Bark out critical info in short sharp yelps
  • Tight-lipped
  • brow puckered
  • Raised his right eyebrow


  • Deep-seated anxiety
  • gnawing at her soul like a rodent’s teeth
  • Practiced friendly nod
  • It occurred to him, in the last functioning part of his brain


  • It all made her head ache
  • Stomach heaved
  • Wave of nausea
  • A headache flared
  • The headache, a familiar electric pain behind his eyes
  • A throbbing headache was developing beneath his temples
  • Living with her headache
  • My headache had returned
  • Thrumming/buzzing/purring/vibrating/drumming headache behind her temples
  • She winced, brows furrowed tight with pain
  • A needling headache behind his right ear
  • The rhythm of blood throbbing in my temple
  • Skull pounding
  • Stick hot needles in her eyes
  • Muscle in his right cheek flexed
  • temple twitched
  • She finally got to the edge of her headache
  • Head felt like it was filled with straw
  • her heartache had gone numb


  • hands shaking in a palsy of rage
  • Hands clamped tightly together, leaning forward, knuckles white
  • His hands crossed in front of him
  • That fast-wave women do
  • shook like the wings of a hummingbird fingers tightly intertwined
  • knuckle cracking
  • flapped a hand,
  • Folded his arms across his chest
  • Soft handshake
  • Firm, manly handshakes


  • Worry lines framed her mouth and tugged at her eyes14263_203_1
  • Forced a smile
  • muscles in his jaw bunched
  • her dead mother smiled across the gulf of time
  • Long face pensive and worried
  • Shook his head and turned back
  • His grimace that of a man who’s bitten into a moldy plum
  • Tears started again without sound or movement
  • Smile faded from his face
  • Tepid smile
  • Grit his teeth


  • Vision narrowed to a pinprick
  • eyes locked on like magnets
  • studied her w/ a predator’s unwavering attention
  • blinked a couple of times
  • Squinted out into the audience
  • eyes narrowed to slits
  • Narrowed his eyes
  • eyes locked in a shared understanding
  • yellow rimmed eyes narrowing
  • eyes turned inward
  • peer sightlessly at a wall
  • Staring sightlessly into the darkness
  • Stared into the distance
  • Fixed expression
  • Looked at a place somewhere over his shoulder
  • Their eyes met, but he broke it off
  • meaningful eye contact
  • risked a peek
  • she screwed her eyes shut


  • skin on the back of his neck puckered
  • muscles at the back of her neck tightened
  • fluffed the hair at the back of her neck when she was thinking


  • elbows resting on his knees
  • locked arms



2 thoughts on “How Your Body Tells a Story As Well as Words Do

  1. Pingback: Writers Tip #54: Do You Know Your Characters | WordDreams...

  2. Pingback: How Your Body Tells a Story As Well as Words Do | Long Distance Inc

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