characters / descriptors / writers resources

How to Tell if Someone is Lying: Body Language

lyingOver half of our communication is done with body language, not words. I study it so I can characterize the people in my books–their actions, hand gestures, facial expressions–and it has taught me a lot about reading people’s interior monologue–those ideas they don’t want to share, but inadvertently do. Even the best speakers have a difficult time preventing twitches, unconscious  hesitations or muscle movements from giving away what they truly feel.

Here are some of the ‘tells’ (movements the person doesn’t realize they are doing) that someone is lying that you can incorporate into your writing:

Verbal Context and Content

  • A liar will use your words to answer a question. When asked, “Did you eat the last cookie?” The liar answers, “No, I did not eat the last cookie.”
  • A statement with a contraction is more likely to be truthful: “I didn’t do it” instead of “I did not do it”
  • Liars sometimes avoid “lying” by not making direct statements. They imply answers instead of denying something directly.

    body language

  • The guilty person may say too much, adding unnecessary details to convince you. they are uncomfortable with silence or pauses in the conversation.
  • A liar may leave out pronouns and speak in a monotonous tone. When a truthful statement is made, the pronoun is emphasized as much or more than the rest of the words in a statement.
  • Words may be garbled and spoken softly, and syntax and grammar may be off. In other words, his sentences will likely be muddled rather than emphasized.
  • Listen for a subtle delay in responses to questions. An honest answer comes quickly from memory. Lies require a quick mental review of what they have told others to avoid inconsistency.
  • Lowered heads indicate a reason to hide something. If it is after an explanation, s/he may be lying, unsure if what they said was correct.
  • Look into their eyes. Liars will consecutively look at you and look away a number of times.
  • Avoiding direct statements or answers
  • Leaving out pronouns (he, she, it, etc.)

Other signs of a lie:facial expressions

  • Watch their throat. A person may be either trying to lubricate their throat when he/she lies OR swallowing to avoid the tension built up
  • Watch hands, arms and legs, which tend to be limited, stiff, and self-directed when the person is lying. The hands may touch or scratch their face, nose or behind an ear, but are not likely to touch their chest or heart
  • If you believe someone is lying, change subject quickly. A liar follows along willingly and becomes more relaxed. They want the subject changed. An innocent person may be confused by the sudden change in topics and will want to go back to the previous subject.
  • Or, if you believe someone is lying, allow silence to enter the conversation. Observe how uncomfortable and restless the person becomes.
  • Liars more often use humor or sarcasm to avoid a subject.
  • Under the eyes, small pockets of flesh pop up when someone smiles, but only if the smile is genuine.

Deception–maybe they aren’t lying, but they’re hiding something

  • covering the mouth with the hands
  • rubbing the side of the nose
  • leaning away from you
  • micro shrug
  • voice pitch increases
  • Liars, he says, use more “negative emotion” words (hurt, ugly, nasty) and fewer first-person singulars.

Sound complicated? It isn’t. Watch this TEDTalk from Pamela Meyer. Here’s a fascinating infographic on body language from Dr. Nick Morgan. Psychology Today has a thorough discussion on body language and lying.

More on body language:

How Your Characters Might Recognize an Emotion Part I

How Characters Show Emotion Part III

What Do Emotions Look Like?

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 the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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27 thoughts on “How to Tell if Someone is Lying: Body Language

  1. Pingback: What I learned from the characters in Against All Odds | WordDreams...

  2. This is going to be to useful for my antagonist. 😉
    In my own life, I don’t pay a lot of attention to how things are said (which I should do), but body language is something I pay close attention to.


  3. hmmm. . . . . . . . . . . .Verrrrrrrry interrrrrrrrrrresting, I say, rubbing the side of my nose, leaning back in my chair, consciously touching my hand to my heart, knowing that all art forms take practice, especially lying . . .


  4. Great observations, good to know for writing. And then there’s the more formidable character–the one who doesn’t tell truth, but, by dint of mental disorder, doesn’t know it.


  5. Awesome! I’m always researching non-verbal cues while writing scenes. I’m one of those overly-expressive people when it comes to body language, and although it’s been annoying sometimes, it definitely makes story telling easier. (Just watch yourself in the mirror for a bit, eh?)


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