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Body Language Basics

In any story, half of the information given to the reader is never spoken out loud.  It’s body language, and body language can tell your reader what your character is doing and how they feel about it.

Smiling for example.  There are many kinds of smiles and each one tells something different about what the character is thinking, feeling or doing.  A natural smile produces wrinkles around the eyes while an insincere smile only makes your mouth move.

Five other types of smiles:

* Tight-lipped smile – the lips are stretched out to form a straight line and the teeth are hidden. This smile can say, “I have a secret”, “That’s just silly” or “I’m tolerating you only because I have to” depending on how tight the mouth is.

* Twisted smile – when only one side of the mouth is turned up and no wrinkles appear near the eyes this smile is saying, “Sarcasm.”

* Drop-jaw smile – the jaw is dropped to give the impression the person is laughing or playful, but isn’t really feeling either of those things. No wrinkles near the eyes, means not a happy smile.

* Sideways-looking up smile – the head is turned down and away while looking up and smiling. This smile tells people you are juvenile, fun, secretive and coy. It produces protective feelings in men, and women want to be like her. Princess Diana was an expert at this smile.

The eyes can give away what we’re really thinking if you know what to look for. 

A person’s pupils will contract when they’re angry, unhappy or repulsed.   They will dilate when a person is happy, excited, attracted or solving a problem.  If you look at a person with dilated pupils you will feel welcomed and respond in kind. The reverse is also true.

Eyebrows can also speak volumes about what we’re thinking.

* We flash our eyebrows at people we wish to attract (a rapid raise and lowering of the brow).

* Lowered eyebrows – indicate aggression or concern. We tend to take people with low eyebrows more seriously. JKF had low set eyebrows.

* Raised eyebrows – is a gesture of surprise or submissiveness.

* Lowering the eyelids while raising the eyebrows, looking up and slightly parting the lips indicates sexual submissiveness. Marilyn Monroe had this look down pat.

Nodding and positioning of the head can reveal several very primal feelings.

* A slow head nod indicates interest in what’s being said.

* Fast nodding tells the speaker you’ve heard enough.

* Head nodding in general encourages cooperation and agreement.

* Tilting the head signals submission because it exposes the throat and neck.

* Head down signals negative feelings or aggression.

Body position signals how we really feel about the other people around us.

* Facing someone with an open stance, legs straight or apart, arms at your sides, palms facing forward is a “Trust me” signal. We also use it when we want to engender a positive response from the other person.

* Open legs is a signal of acceptance and confidence.

* Crossed legs or arms signals a nervous, submissive, negative or defensive attitude.

* Women are more likely to fold their arms across their chests around aggressive or unattractive men and hold them open around men they find attractive.

* Holding hands behind the back is a gesture signalling superiority or confidence.

* Hands on the hips makes us appear larger and is a sign of assertion.

Think about what a person’s body position when they attempt to hug you.  It’s completely open and if you like, trust or are attracted to this person, it’s easy to hug them back. But, if you don’t like or trust, or aren’t attracted to this person, hugging them is very difficult and uncomfortable. You will hold your body as far away from that person as you can, stiffly and will try to end the hug as fast as possible.

Want to present an interest and readiness in another person and/or what they’re saying?  Lean forward in an open body position.

When we like someone or agree with what they’re saying we will mirror their body position.

It’s a commonly held belief that a liar can’t look a person in the eyes, but that’s not always true.  If you want to spot a liar, watch their hands not their eyes. A liar’s subconscious will tell their hands to try to cover or stop the lie from coming out. As a child if you said something that wasn’t true you’d probably slap both hands over your mouth.

As we get older, we get better at suppressing our reactions, but it’s really hard to not do one of the six common lying gestures:

* The hand or fingers cover, touch or go in the mouth.

* The nose touch.

* The eye rub.

* The ear grab.

* The neck scratch.

* The collar pull.

Body language can enrich any story, because it relates the innermost thoughts and feelings of our characters, even while they’re saying words to the opposite. It’s a great way to enhance description and give depth to your dialogue, conflict and romance.


Julie Rowe
Julie Rowe has written fifteen books in nine years. She is primarily focused on writing medical romances. She's also a published freelancer with articles appearing in The Romance Writer's Report, Canadian Living, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest (Canada) and other magazines. Julie is an active member of RWA and its subchapters, Heartbeat RWA, Calgary RWA and KOD. Julie serves on the RWA Membership Committee and coordinates Book In A Week programs for Heartbeat and Calgary RWA. Julie enjoys teaching and volunteering. Visit her at www.JulieRoweauthor.com

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