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How to Describe Body Parts in Action

No, you can’t simply say mouth. When you look at someone’s face, their mouth (or eyes, or noses–you understand) do stuff. They twitch, glow, wrinkle, any number of movements that as an author, will add detail and intrigue to your story, as well as define your character. Here’s a list I’ve culled from books I read. As with all of these lists, don’t use them verbatim; adjust them with your author’s voice, to suit your situations.

And, add your own in the comment section. Share with the rest of the community:


  • 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
  • He dropped into topics she cared passionately about, but she didn’t comment
  • He wondered briefly
  • Segued to a different topic,
  • 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 grammar and syntax were good
  • She digressed
  • His voice hardened as he spoke
  • Her words seemed to lead me close, in hopes I’d provide my own answers
  • The comment wasn’t a question
  • His thin voice took on a pedantic tone
  • The babble of talk died at his entry. He blinked as his eyes adjusted.
  • I sense a but coming
  • Meaningless gibberish
  • Breath came in ragged gasps
  • Anger crept into his voice
  • Bark out critical info in short sharp yelps
  • Tight-lipped
  • Looked left and right before starting
  • Sam waited until he grunted back
  • Elvis fished his name out of the fog of conversation


  • brow puckered
  • Raised his right eyebrow
  • Deep-seated anxiety


  • gnawing at her soul like a rodent’s teeth
  • Heard little and cared less
  • Hovering over her shoulder
  • He waited for me to speak
  • Stomach heaved
  • Wave of nausea
  • her heartache had gone numb
  • 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



Photo credit: Victor Antunez

  • Practiced friendly nod
  • It occurred to him, in the last functioning part of his brain
  • Muscle in his right cheek flexed
  • temple twitched
  • Shook his head and turned back

Headaches (a favorite of mine)

  • It all made her head ache
  • 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
  • She finally got to the edge of her headache
  • Head felt like it was filled with straw


  • 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
  • Steepled her fingers
  • elbows resting on his knees
  • locked arms


  • Worry lines framed her mouth and tugged at her eyes
  • Forced a smile
  • her dead mother smiled across the gulf of time
  • Long face pensive and worried
  • 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
  • Stubborn set of his jaw revealed that he was a dangerous man to cross
  • Scratched his cheek
  • His face hardened in concentration
  • Thinking about my conversation with the old detective
  • skin on the back of his neck puckered
  • muscles in his jaw bunched
  • muscles at the back of her neck tightened
  • fluffed the hair at the back of her neck when she was thinking


  • Vision narrowed to a pinprick
  • eyes locked on like magnets
  • studied her with 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
  • stared brazenly into her eyes
  • opened her eyes wide
  • dark eyes radiated a fierce, uncompromising intelligence
  • 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–couldn’t recall the incident

For more descriptors for characters and settings, click here.


10 thoughts on “How to Describe Body Parts in Action

  1. Pingback: 70 Collections to Infuse Your Writing | WordDreams...

    • I don’t know that they’re copyrighted. I just know I found them in another author’s writing so am passing on the warning. Copyrights scare the heck out of me so I always err on the side of caution.


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