If there is one thing most authors struggle with in creative writing, it’s describing body language!
Body language is incredibly expressive. You can say a lot just by raising an eyebrow, flipping someone off, or shrugging. But if you add these same expressions into narrative too often, they can seem repetitive and annoying. This means that you have to start adding variety, and that’s when things get tricky…
We all have hand gestures, facial expressions, or body positions that say a lot, but they’re nearly impossible to write. Every country has its own gestures and positions, and there are SO FEW expressions for them. Thankfully, a few people have come up with “Cheat Sheets” to make our lives easier:
Psychology Today has a list of facial gestures, accompanied by their meaning. If you want to convey that your character is irritated, nervous, disdainful, or stressed, check out the link and see the facial gestures that describe those things.
Bryn Donovan has a beautiful list of some of the most common body language and gestures. Instead of being organized by meaning, they are organized by body part (hand, face, shoulders, etc.). Definitely worth a look-see to find how to convey what you’re trying to say!
Bryn Donovan also has a Physical Descriptions cheat sheet that can come in handy. You can convey a character’s personality by using descriptions such as “squinty”, “rheumy”, “unruly”, “pasty”, etc. These are all descriptions of physical aspects, but they’re all handy for communicating more about the characters.
There is also the Facial Expressions cheat sheet, which gives a list of close to 100 facial expressions. Some of them are a bit iffy (“tears shimmered in her eyes” is one of my least favorite), but they can give you an idea of how to make your characters’ faces move.
The Information Dump has an excellent cheat sheet for body language, such as conveying anger, distress, dishonesty, and many more.
Writers Write has a pretty long list of common emotions, along with the accompanying body language. For writers working on “Showing” instead of “Telling”, this link is VERY handy.