Character gestures and physical descriptions

Character gestures and physical descriptions

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Advice based on Australian Style Manual (ASM)

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Character gestures and physical descriptions

A character hugging themselves to demonstrate how physical actions can convey emotions

Do your characters nod, smile, shrug or raise their eyebrows too often?

Are you finding that you’re telling readers how your characters feel, rather than letting readers interpret your character’s interiority from their physical actions and reactions?

Then this blog is for you.

Here you’ll find three lists:

  1. Body gestures that convey emotion
  2. Body movement options to avoid repetition
  3. Body part descriptions to avoid cliche

Gestures that convey emotion

Every movement a character makes, every physical reaction, should hold meaning within the context of your story. Action for the sake of action, is just content filler and can drag the pace of your story.

Anger / Tension

clench fists

clench jaw

growl

hiss

pace

pivot

pound fist

round on someone

screech

slam door

slam fist

smash object

snort

stand over

stare

stomp foot

throw object

yell

Awkwardness

adjust tie

bite or pick a nail

chew on a cuticle

clear throat

cough

cross legs

fiddle with earring / bracelet / ring

fidget

inspect fingernails

jiggle foot

look away

pick at lint

pluck at frayed cuff

shift from one foot to the other

smooth skirt / shirt / tie

sniff

swing leg

tug at earlobe

tug at shirt collar

turn away

twist ring on finger

uncross legs

Boredom

distract

doze off

drag feet

fall asleep

fidget

rest chin on palm

sigh

stretch

tap fingers

tune out

wain

yawn

Excitement

bounce

clap hands

exclamation

jump up and down

pump fist

punch air

squeal

whoop

widen eyes

Ease

cross ankles

lean back

put feet up

snuggle

sprawl out

stretch out legs

yawn

Containment

breathe deep

fold arms

fold hands in lap

grip the arms of the chair

purse lips

set / rest hands on table

set palms down flat on table

Frustration / Impatience

clear throat

drum fingers

facepalm

growl

moan

pace

sigh

slap forehead

smack forehead

tap fingers

tap foot

whinge

Fear

cower

cringe

flinch

huddle

inch forward

jerk away

jolt upright

jump

jump to feet

pull back

reel

shake

shiver

shook

shrink

shudder

start

startle

stiffen

straighten

tense

tremble

turn away

Humour

bellow

belly laugh

bray

cackle

chortle

chuckle

convulse

bitter laugh

mirthless laugh

giggle

guffaw

ha

heh

howl

laugh

roar

snicker

snort

titter

Thoughtfulness

breathe deep

close eyes

finger over mouth

lean back in chair

narrow eyes

pinch the bridge of nose

rub chin

rub eyes

rub forehead

rub mouth

scratch / stroke beard

scratch head

scratch nose

sigh

Surprise / Distress

clutch chest

drop something

faint

gasp

hand over mouth

lean against something

pivot

press a hand to throat

press fingers to lips

rock back and forth

squeal

stagger

sway

whirl around

yelp

Body movement options to avoid repetition

Arms

clench to sides

cross arms over chest

flap

fold over chest

hide behind back

hold out arms

hug themselves

limp at sides

spread wide

sweep

wrap arms around oneself

Breath

blow out cheeks

chest rise and fall

deep breath

exhale

gasp

hold breath

huff

let out a harsh / soft breath

long breath

pant

quicken

sharp breath

sigh

snort

Chin

jut

lift

lower

point

pull in

raise

tilt

wobble

Eyes

examine

glance

side-eye

spy

squint

study

survey

watch

Feet / gait

cross

curl toes

drag

hop

hurry

kick

pad

poke

prod

put up

race

run

scuff

shuffle

splay

stamp / stomp

stumble over

tap

tread

trip over

trot

walk

Hair

bury hands in

chew

let fall over face

pin up

play with

pull

rake fingers

run hand through

shake out

shove away from face

toss

toy with a lock

tuck behind ear

twirl

wrap a curl around finger

wrench

yank

Hands

ball fists

brush palms

cinch palms

clap

clench fists

extend a hand

extend middle finger

gave a dismissive wave of hand

gesture with a thumb

give a thumbs up

give the finger

grip the arms of the chair

hands on hips

held up hands

held up palms

hold up a finger

jam hands pockets

jerk thumb

lift hands

loosen fists

point

press to cheeks

raise a hand in greeting

rest a hand on hip

rub hands

shield eyes

shove hands in pockets

snap fingers

spread hands

squeeze into fists

steeple fingers

throw hands in the air

tighten to fists

unclench fists

wave

wave

Head

bob

bow

cock

duck

hang

incline

jerk

lower

nod

shake

tilt

twist

Shoulders

half shrug

hunch

knead / rub shoulder

limp

loosen

massage neck

roll shoulders

rub temples

sag

shrug

slouch

slump

stiffen

tense

wilt

Body part descriptions to avoid cliche

Eyes

beady

bloodshot

bulging

calcium deposits

garish / soft / smoky eyeshadow

glassy

guarded

hooded

kohl

mascara        

opaque

pale / dark lashes

rheumy

shifty

shiny

sunken

watery

wide

wrinkled

Mouth

agape

bleeding lipstick

chewed

cracked

flat

full lipped

lined

narrow

pillowed

pinched

pouty

pursed

sealed

thick lipped

thin lipped

tight lipped

wide

Hands

long-fingered

manicured

narrow

rough

sharp nails

smooth

soft

spotless

stubby fingers

thick

veined

 

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