Body Language in Writing and Life

I have no idea how well NaNoWriMo is going for three reasons.

  1. I’m writing everything out with pen and paper
  2. I’ve been distracted by two short stories and haven’t actually touched the novel I was planning to finish.
  3. This blog.

I came across this body language reference sheet by Mickey Quinn. It was originally designed to help comic book illustrators, but it works for writers as well.

I loved what Quinn had to say about crotch displays. I saw Fire and Ice (1983) last year and noticed none of the characters wore much more than loin cloths. The running gag was that if you wished to intimidate someone, assume Power Stance (aka, show them your balls.) Sometimes jokes have a seed of truth in them.

Power stance! Also, I’m convinced that Rexxar from Warcraft III played Darkwolf in Fire and Ice


I’m ashamed to say that I rely on a few key gestures far too often in my writing. There are more ‘significant glances’ in my stories than actual dialogue, and everyone asserts their will on each other by physically restraining them.

“You can get your point across without being so grabby, dear.”


Another bit that Quinn didn’t mention is elbows. I’ve observed that dominant posture has to do with how far one’s elbows are from their waist. When I feel big and full of bravado, my elbows are out. When I’m trying to be cute and coy, they’re in.

Check out the difference in posture between Luis Royo’s woman on the left, and Michael Ivan‘s woman on the right. All things equal, they’re both pretty slinky and sexy; but their elbow position, to me, tells the most about who will fight first and flirt later.

Get some.

How do you use non-verbal communication in your writing? What about in life?


15 thoughts on “Body Language in Writing and Life

  1. David G Shrock

    Great reminder for writers. Visual artists probably think about this more often than word slingers. A strategically placed mention of body position can tell a reader a great deal in few words.

    I try to point out body language when it matters: to show if character performing skill is confident and experience versus awkward beginner, when character wants to intimidate, flirt, or flee. I’m very visual, so sometimes I have to remind myself to edit out too much body language that isn’t important for the scene. Having a source like Quinn’s is handy, and observing body language in day-to-day life is good practice.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Bob Bonsall

    My one issue with writers and body language is the same I have with pretty much everything else: not just writers who write what they don’t know, but things they try to go into deep detail on and get horribly, horribly wrong. Whether it’s body language in a flirtatious situation or a blow-by-blow in a sword fight, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, sometimes it’s just better to draw the outline of the situation and convey the mood you are reaching for through the characters’ reactions (mental, emotional, or verbal).

    Either that or do a lot of research so you get it right in the first place.

      1. Bob Bonsall

        Honestly this is going to sound terrible, but I mostly avoid them.

        For fights, I have studied some swordplay (I spent about a year studying Lichtenauer longsword technique, which taught me just enough to know I should avoid writing detailed sword fighting scenes), and I have studied acting for several years so I at least understand the idea of trying to get emotion across to an audience.

        That being said, I try to set the scene as I would in any other situation, and pepper in a few details, but beyond that I focus on the impact it has on the characters. If it is a fight scene, I will usually focus on things like why they are fighting, one character’s assessment of the situation (does she feel things are going well? Does he feel outclassed?), or find some metaphorical (even poetic or allegorical) way of describing things.

        For romantic situations… honestly, I just don’t write romance. The closest I’ve ever come is writing teenagers fumbling toward relationships (okay, teenage werewolves, but teenagers nonetheless) because I figure if I’m going to write awkward, awful, cringe-inducing romance scenes, it might as well fit the moment.

      2. Bob Bonsall

        I’ve tried stretching a bit in terms of description, and I find my biggest issue is that I’m not as strong on sensory description as I should be in general. I tend to be more focused on dialogue between characters, probably because I was an actor before I started writing. When my wife reads my writing her comments are usually full of “what does this look like? What does this sound like? What does this smell like?” When she points it out to me I can see the flaw and start filling it in, but the problem for me is that it all seems so clear in my head that I don’t realize it isn’t there on the paper when I’m writing it. I’m trying to focus on getting better in that regard first, and then extending that to other things, such as combat and love.

      3. Setsu Post author

        I have one beta-reader that constantly writes notes like “yes, but what does it ~feel~ like? I feel disconnected from the character here.” Different readers want different things. We’re so lucky we have people on the journey with us!

        Have you written in screenplay format?

      4. Bob Bonsall

        I’ve considered it, but honestly I don’t have even the faintest idea where to begin. Most of my work is in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy, and while that has had a resurgence in the last decade or so, the budget that would be required to do that kind of film is so high I don’t know that I could get it in front of anyone who could produce it. That and I have no experience with the format, so I would need to study up on it a lot before I tried.

        Have you ever moved into a new format like that before? If you have, what was your process? Did you study the work of others, did you take classes/read guides, or did you dive right in?

      5. Setsu Post author

        It depends on the motivation. I like reading the actual material more than how-to guides; especially when it comes to formatting. There’s nothing more tedious than going back into a manuscript just to make sure the alignment on the tabs is correct.

        If it’s something I’m writing with the intent to share or publish then I’ll check on some of the rules — again, formatting’s a big one — but then there’s other stuff like each page is a minute of film, the difference between a screenplay and a shooting script, etc. Once I get the very basics I dive right in — and save all the research and prep for editing stages. I learn better by correcting mistakes than by never having made them.

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