Articles Files Videos Sites Bookstores Classes Categories Critique Services
Ads Blogs Donate
10.12.2012 15:11    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Writing  Writing  Writing Craft      Tags: h. thomas milhorn  body language  genre  fiction  guide  craft  

Body Language (From Chapter 14 of Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide to the Craft by H.T. Milhorn)


The following is a table of body language for various emotions. Think of ways you can use some of them in combinations with dialogue and narrative.


Making the body big (hands on hips with elbows wide, standing upright and erect with the chin up and the chest thrust out, legs may be placed apart), facial signals (disapproving frowns, pursed lips, sneers, snarls, jaws clenched, staring and holding the gaze for a long period, squinting with constricted pupils, nostrils flared, curled lips), gestures (shaking fists, whole arm sweeps, pointing finger, exaggerated movements, slamming closed hand on table, handling objects roughly, fists clinched)
Rubbing hands, licking lips.
Locked ankles, pacing, clearing of throat, exhaling audibly, fidgeting, jiggling money or keys, tugging ear, wringing hands, adjusting tie, clutching object tightly, pacing, scratching, rubbing arms.
Lack of Interest
Distraction (looking anywhere but at the person who is talking. Doodling, talking with others, staring around the room, playing with objects on desk), repetition (tapping toes, swinging feet, drumming fingers, repeatedly looking at watch or wall clock, picking at clothes), tiredness (yawning, whole body sagging as individual slouches down in seat or leans against a wall, face appears blank, head resting in hand, eyes downcast, sitting with legs crossed and foot kicking slightly).
Climax is over and story goal is answeredWinners and losers are knownLoose ends are wrapped upCharacters have gained new insights that reflect their growthTheme is reinforcedSymbolic event.
Close Minded,
Arms or legs (arms folded, legs crossed in 11 position, when legs are crossed but arms are not, it can show deliberate attempts to appear relaxed. This is particularly true when legs are hidden under a table.), head (looking away, head may be inclined away from the person and may be tucked down, frown).
Sitting with hands clasped behind head, legs crossed; brisk, erect walk with head held high, good eye contact,
A deceptive body is concerned about being found out, and this concern may show anxiety (sweating, sudden movements, minor twitches of muscles around mouth and eyes, fidgeting). To avoid being caught, there may be various signs of over-control, such as signs of attempted friendly body language (forced smile - mouth smiles but eyes do not, jerky movements, oscillation between open body language and deceptive body language), touches face, hand over mouth, pulls ear, eyes down, shifts in seat, looks down and to the left, avoids eye contact. Palms hidden.
Standing with hands on hips, frowning, hard stare.
Walking with hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, eyes downcast.
Turns body away, leans further back in chair, shakes head side to side.
Looking down, face turned away, rubbing eye, rolling eyes, touching or slightly rubbing nose.
Sitting (feet under chair, legs open), Standing (on toes).
Making a Decision
Hand to cheek, stroking chin, steepling hands, sucking glasses or pencil, looking up and to the right, index finger to lips, legs crossed in 4 position, slightly raised forehead with slight lines across it, pursed lips.
Eyes rolled up, frown
Smiling, shoulders back, head held high, wink.
Tapping or drumming fingers, shifting from one foot to the other.
Pulling or tugging at ear or hair, cleaning glasses, biting lip, pacing, fingers to mouth.
Insecurity, Lack of
Self Confidence
Biting nails, patting or fondling hair, adjusting tie, palm up handshake, minimum eye contact.
Grimacing, flinching, drawing hand back.
Handshake (grabs palm firmly, palm down, pulls other character in and holds his elbow with left hand. Places hands behind back). Touching can be threatening and is used to demonstrate power (pats shoulders and back, guides people with a palm in the small of their back, greets them with a hand on the back, touches them on the elbow or other safe area). Gesture (beat with a finger, a palm, or even a fist when talking.) Walking (walks with exaggerated swinging of arms. Kinks elbows outward to make the body seem wider. Slight swagger. When walking with others, walks in front of them. When going through doors, if going to an audience, goes first. If going from an audience, goes last guiding others through door). Other (leaning back and placing both hands behind the neck, hands on hips, feet on desk, standing while other is sitting).
Readiness to Leave
A ready body is poised for action. Pointing (any part of the body may be pointing at where the character is thinking about—another person or the door. The body part doing the pointing may be as subtle as a foot or as obvious as the whole body leaning. Eyes may also repeatedly flash in the intended direction.) Tension (body is tensed up and ready for action. If sitting, hands may hold onto armrests in readiness to get up, legs are tensed ready to lift the body. Things in the hands are gripped. Attention is away from everything except the intended direction.) Movement (movement is in preparation for further movement—legs uncross, hands grab bag, straightens clothing, buttons jacket. The whole body leans in the intended direction.)
Respect and Interest
Maintains good eye contact, tilts head to one side or the other, nods, leans forward, high blink rate, open feet, arms behind back.
Readiness to Agree
Closes papers, puts pen down, hands flat on table, nods head up and down.
Romantic Interest
Eyes (Initially, from a distance, a person may look at the person of interest for slightly longer than normal, then look away, then look back again for a longer period.) Preening (What is basically being said is I am making myself look good for you—tossing of the head, brushing hair with hand, polishing spectacles, brushing or picking imaginary lint from clothes.) Self-caressing (stroking arms, leg, or face. This may either say “I would like to stroke you like this” or “I would like you to stroke me like this.”). Leaning (Leaning the body toward another person says “I would like to be closer to you.” It also tests to see whether the other person leans toward you or away from you. It can start with the head by a simple tilt. This may be coupled with listening intently to what the person is saying.) Pointing (A person who is interested in another person may subtly point at him with a foot, knee, arm, or head. It says “I would like to go in this direction.”). Other (sensual or dramatic dancing, crotch display in which legs are held apart to show off genitalia area, faked interest in others to invoke envy or hurry a closer engagement, nodding gently as if to say “Yes, I do like you.”). Touching (Touching may start with “accidental” brushing, followed by touching of “safe” parts of the body, such as arms or back. Caressing may start in the safer regions and then stray (especially when alone) to sexual regions.)
Arms (not crossed, person may be animated and moving in synchronization with what is being said. Palms held slightly up). Legs (not crossed, often are parallel. May even be stretched apart. Feet may point forward or to the side or at something or someone of interest). Head (may be directed solely towards the other person or may be looking around. Eye contact is likely to be relaxed and prolonged.). Clothing (jacket open).
Wide-eyed, stone still, hand to chest with fingers spread, gaping jaw.
Body (Hunching inward to reduce the size of the body, arms held in. Crouching position may be taken, with knees slightly bent). Head (head and chin down, avoids looking at other person). Gestures (hands out and palms up shows that no weapons are held, a common pleading gesture. When the submissive person must move small gestures are often made. These may be slow to avoid alarming the other person, although tension may make them jerky).
Rapidly raised eyebrows.
Stroking, touching, lips parted.
Hunched shoulders, staring at floor, head hangs forward and down. When seated, body tends to slump. Walk is more of a shuffle. Arms hang limply by side.




  1. Examples of body language, Sparcs, http://www.deltabravo.net/custody/body.htm, 1998.
  2. Quilliam, Susan, Body Language, Ontario, Firefly Books, 2004.
  3. Reading body language, Job-Employment-Guide.com, http://www.job-employment-guide.com/reading-body-language.html.
  4. Using body language, ChangingMinds.org, http://changingminds.org/techniques/body/body_language.htm.
Order by: 
Per page: 
  • There are no comments yet

Visit our online bookstores:

  1. Kindle's Free eBook Store
  2. Fiction Writer's Bookstore
  3. Romance Writer's Bookstore


Socialpolitan.org is in Association with Amazon.com

0 votes


Jobs from Indeed
Socialpolitan: Fiction Writing Gpix Advertising. Become A Pixel Owner. Learn how your ad could be here.

If this page has been of any value to you, we would appreciate if you help us by spreading the word. Join Fiction Writing Craft on Facebook Join Fiction Writing Craft on Twitter Follow Us

Please take a moment and vote for us at Writer's Digest 101 Best Writing Sites. Thanks!