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Body Language in Fiction

Understanding body language is an important aspect of writing. Body language is a key component in conveying information to the reader. The way a character acts and reacts helps to define who they are. In your story, a character can act or react in any given situation using dialogue and body language. It is important to note that a character’s words don’t always line up with how they truly feel. Their body language might indicate something contradictory to what they said. For example, one of your characters might answer in the affirmative, agreeing with something another character said but they might shake their head, indicating they don’t really agree.


Below is a list of different body language indicators and their meaning. It is worth stating that not everyone uses the same body language in the same situation. Keep in mind that body language is complex. Just because a person is smiling doesn’t mean they’re happy. If a person crosses their arms, it doesn’t always mean they’re not interested. They could be cold.


Arms out (palms open)—shows openness, willing to listen and understand

Arms folded—uninterested, unwilling to open up, guarded

Hands in pockets with thumbs out—dominance

Hands in pockets with only thumbs in—weakness

Pointed at someone with index finger—aggression

Pointing at someone with entire arm out—control

Shaking hands with your palm down—domination

Shaking hands with your palm up—submissive, vulnerable

Handshake with strong grip—aggressive, controlling

Touching the tip of your nose with a finger—not being truthful

Scratching nose—anger

Covering mouth when speaking—being untruthful

Scratching neck during conversation—sign of disagreement

Rubbing back of neck—irritated, impatient, tired of the conversation

Trembling hands—nervousness, fear

Rubbing the eyes—don’t want others to see the truth

Touch forehead or face gently—attempting to comfort yourself

Palming forehead—feeling stupid, flash of insight

Standing with feet wide apart—dominance

Standing on toes—ready for action, alert

Standing with legs crossed (one leg bent at the knee)—feeling safe

Rubbing hands on thighs—anxious

Feet pointed away from the other person—wanting to leave

Woman crosses legs towards a man—she’s interested in him

Woman crosses legs away from man—she’s not interested in him

Asymmetric smile (half-cocked)—arrogance

Symmetrical smile—genuine happiness when the eyes crinkle

Inner part of eyebrows turned up—sad, disappointed

Inner part of eyebrows turned down (knit together)—anger, aggression

High eyebrows (raised) and jaw dropped—surprise

Blinking quickly—distress, discomfort

Dilated pupils—interest, arousal, ready to take action

Staring intently—show interest, anger

Pouting lips—disagreement or thinking

Jaw dropped (slack)—surprise

Mouth open—fear, disbelief

Biting lip—anxiety

Pursed lips—showing distaste

Shoulder shrug—unsure of the answer

Leaning back in chair—relaxed, not taking something serious

Leaning back in chair with hands clasped behind head—confidence, dominance

Leaning forward—interested, open to listen

Pulling at collar—feeling bad, nervous, wanting to calm down (cool off)

Leaning head on one hand—boredom

Leaning face into hands—disappointed, despair, sadness

Chin back, nose up—arrogance, superiority

Making fists—aggression

Flicking the hand and wrist—dismissive

Rolling eyes up—disbelief, impatient

One eyebrow cocked—suspicious

Rubbing temples—tired, overwhelmed, thinking

Walking briskly—in a hurry, busy

Walking slowly—being careful, relaxed

Rubbing chin or pulling at beard—thinking

Hands together (steepled)—pleading

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