Body language is subconscious, so you can’t always tell exactly what’s going on in someone else’s mind. However, body language can be extremely revealing, and it can also be surprisingly easy to pick up—often without even realizing it.
For example, the “head tilt” is often used in emotional displays. When someone is nervous, they may tilt their heads upward, which may send a signal to the other person that they are uneasy or unsure. The “head tilt” is also used sometimes in playful interactions, and it’s especially common when one person is talking to another. When someone is teasing or joking around, they may tilt their heads to the side.
When you’re looking at your manuscript, and there’s something missing, consider adding details about your character’s body language at that moment.
In the photo above, we see two figures. One appears to be a woman on the left, and a man on the right. The photo is cropped in such a way that you can’t confirm the genders but that’s my first impression. Why is the presumed woman kicking her leg out? Is there a reason? Explain it! Apply that thought process to your work-in-progress. What about the man in the orange-red shoes? His feet are planted firmly on the ground. Why? Talk about it on the page!
Showing emotion through movement can be done in the following ways:
- Open or closed body posture
- Shoulder position
- Stance and bearing
- Shielding their body
- Personal space preferences
- Physical movements
- Body tension
- Self-soothing gestures
- Fiddling with clothing, jewelry, or other objects
- Position of their feet
- The angle of the body
Body language doesn’t just affect how people see your characters in their mind; it also affects how it makes them feel. How your characters move, their posture, their facial expressions, how they hold their body… all of these things have an effect on how readers perceive your work. It’s subtle but it can add so much to what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s often difficult, but it’s important to learn how to read others’ body language so you can translate it to the page.