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Since most expressions are involuntary, how your characters look can be as important as what they say. Since actions speak louder than words, you have interesting characters when they say one thing but look and act like they might intend something else.

  • How People Look

You want to move beyond simple smiles and tears, and describe the expressions that give meaning to what is said.

  1. Aggression: eyes intense, hands on hips
  2. Anger: clenched lips, flared nostrils, glaring eyes blinking less than normal, reddened face, furrowed brow, eyebrows lowered and drawn together, clenched fist, tightened jaw. lips tightened and turned downward, smile is forced, hands on hips
  3. Approval, attentive: body leaning forward, eyes in constant contact, head nodding, lips with a genuine smile, open palms
  4. Bored: hands in pockets, smug lips
  5. Concentrating: furrowed brow, focused eyes
  6. Confident: arms relaxed at ones side, body leaning forward, steady eye contact, hands clasped behind back, erect posture
  7. Controlling: hands on hips, folded arms, intense eyes
  8. Disapproval: folded arms, averted eyes, lips in a smirk
  9. Disbelief: wide eyes, tight lips, raised eyebrows
  10. Disgust: wrinkled nose, raised cheeks, lowered brow, averted eyes, lips narrow with a frown, lips tightened in a scowl, stiffened chin
  11. Fear: furrowed brow, tense cheeks, trembling lips, raised eyebrows drawn together, raised eyelids, showing whites of the eyes
  12. Happiness: smile, adding wrinkles outside the eyes, exposed teeth, bright eyes, sparkle in the eyes
  13. Pain: touching the stomach or some place that hurts, real or imaginary
  14. Puzzled: wrinkled brow, straight lips
  15. Sadness: furrowed brow, droopy eyelids, watery eyes, tears down the cheeks, subdued frown, dropped chin, eyes staring downward
  16. Shock: stone faced, blank stare, glassy eyes, raised eyebrows
  17. Surprise: raised eyebrows, wide eyes, dropped jaw, open mouth, hint of a smile
  • What Body Language Can Say about Your Character

Your characters sit, stand, or walk away, but let readers see more and they will be drawn into the meaning and feeling, and want to find out what happens.

  1. Aggression: pointing the finger, aiming a hand in the form of a gun, raised fist, finger poked in someone’s chest, a push, finger drawn across the throat like a knife, sitting on someone’s desk, leaning into someone’s space, raised voice
  2. Anger: raised voice, slammed fist, sudden change in position, thrown objects, stomped foot, voice is high pitch and volume, spoken at a fast rate
  3. Bad Smell: pinched nose, head turned away
  4. Blame Accepted: open hands pulled inward, pointing at one’s chest
  5. Bored, Closed Mind: crossing legs, leaning back, arms closed across the chest, looking elsewhere, lowered head, finger drumming, foot tapping, picking imaginary lint from clothing
  6. Concentrating: stroking the chin, hand touches or rubs the lips, hand scratches the head
  7. Confidence: arms locked across the chest, hands clasped behind the head, measured pace, walking erect, chin high, head and hands move in a hair toss, lips give an occasional, genuine smile with crow’s-feet crinkle outside the eyes
  8. Confusion: shrug with outstretched arms and open palms, hesitation
  9. Contempt: averting the eyes, lips raised in a sneer, lips tighten, wrinkling the nose, voice is low pitch and volume, spoken at a slow rate
  10. Controlling: finger pointing, hand makes a chopping motion onto the other hand, palms turn forward as if pushing away, body pushes forward, invading personal space
  11. Deception, Lying: averting the eyes, turning head to the side, scratching back of neck, stroking the chin, faked cough, lips in a frequent, rubbing the nose, faked smile with no crinkle outside the eyes, short and incomplete responses, vague answers with few details, sweating, swallowing
  12. Disapproval: body leaning back, eyes looking away, fingers drumming, head shaking
  13. Disgusted: Voice is low pitch and volume, spoken at a slow rate
  14. Embarrassed: biting lips, face reddens, speechless
  15. Fearful: shifting weight from one foot to the other, eyes blink more than normal, licking lips, shrugging
  16. Forgetting: slap on the forehead, a raised finger, scratching the chin
  17. Good News, Yes: thumb raised, fist thrust forward and down, slapping someone’s open palm
  18. Gratitude: a kiss, shaking hands, pat on the back, applause
  19. Happy: chronic genuine smile, voice is high pitch and volume, spoken at a fast rate
  20. Honest: holds steady eye contact, hand motions with open palms, lips acquire a slow, genuine smile
  21. Impatience: eyes toward the clock or the door, rubbing hands, finger drumming, foot tapping, pacing
  22. Insecure, Nervous: touching the mouth while speaking, brushing hair with fingers, biting fingernails, tapping fingers or other unconscious repetitive movements, trembling voice, rapid clearing of throat, sweating, weak voice
  23. Intolerance: hand playing an imaginary violin
  24. Listening: tilted head, on the edge of the seat, leaning forward, arms separated, cupping a hand behind the ear
  25. Money Needed: rubbing thumb against fingers
  26. Nervous: swaying body, jingling car keys, averting eyes, drumming fingers, chewing fingernails, tapping feet, chewing on something, lips show a rare, faked smile
  27. Recognition: body leans forward, eyebrows rise, eyes hold contact, head nods
  28. Relief: hand wiped across the brow
  29. Resignation: stepping back, bowed head, turning away, hands in the pockets, silence, shrugging
  30. Sadness: silence, crying, choking on words, resting head in hands, voice is low pitch and volume, spoken at a slow rate
  31. Sexual Interest: moving closer, eyes make contact longer than normal, shift away, then back, smoothing one’s clothing, tossing the hair, head tilts in a sideways glance, shoulders push back, legs cross and uncross
  32. Sincerity: hand over the heart
  33. Stupid: rotating finger pointed at one’s temple, slapping the forehead, slapping the side of the head
  34. Superiority: raising the chin, steepling the fingers, placing hands on hips, looking down the nose, lips show a condescending smirk, shaking the head in denying respect of others
  35. Surprised: rising eyebrows, widening eyes, mouth dropping open, voice is high pitch and volume, words spoken at a rising rate
  36. Thinking: hesitation or pause, scratching the scalp, rubbing the chin, walking with hands clasped behind the back, closed eyes, resting chin on hand
  37. Trustworthy: steady eye contact, submissive shrugs, tilted head, lips give a slow and genuine smile, hand gestures are made with palms up, sits and stands tall and straight
  38. Uncomfortable: squirming, repetitive movements