characters / descriptors / writers / writers resources / writing

How to Describe Moving Body Parts

Are they dancing or fighting?

Are they dancing or fighting?

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


  • 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.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blogger, Technology in Education featured blogger, and IMS tech expert. She is  the editor of a K-6 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-6 Digital Citizenship curriculum, creator of technology training books for middle school and ebooks on technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Follow me.

10 thoughts on “How to Describe Moving Body Parts

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

  2. When you read, do you mark words and passages of interest? You read so fast and so much, I don’t know how you also take the time to make note of all these items. I often mark passages that I love and want to return to for their beauty or power, but it takes time, and often effort to hoist myself out of the chair to find a sticky note, to be vigilant about it.
    I keep saying – you are Superwoman and the pen is your emblem. (Who wants a picture of a boxy computer on their leotard when they could choose an elegant fountain pen?)
    Thanks for the list of descriptors. Very useful.


    • I do mark them! I have a big stack sitting by my computer, waiting for me to input my favorite parts into these lists. When I get stuck on my writing, I read these lists and get inspired. I hope it works that way for others.

      Thanks, Shari, for always adding a comment. It gets lonely at times. Where are the Dianas?


  3. “A throbbing headache was developing beneath his temples.”

    Sounds like a good description of what happens when I read the troll comments on the Amazon Gold Box Deals of the Day.


What do you think? Leave a comment and I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s