You’re an author, so your job is to fully communicate what your main character are thinking, doing, or even hiding.
Often you can do this in the way that you describe their body language.
In your first scene, your main character, Roy, might have just gotten his car stolen from someone he trusted. He’s going to show this in the way he stands and holds his duffle bag of clothes. Later, when he’s flirting with a cute girl in the Wal-Mart parking lot, he stands a different way entirely. He may offer her a piece of chewing gum in such a way that it feels more like a proposition. Hopefully, in the description of Roy and his antics, you can tell the reader far more more about him that what he’s letting on.
These 16 questions can help you determine if your character has something to communicate through their body actions in a scene.
Some of them could change with the action of the character. But some of these, that are a part of your character’s appearance, could communicate significance too.
These questions are not meant to be used all at once. Instead, use them for inspiration.
1. How does your character sit when no one is looking? Is your character conscious of how they sit? Are they going for comfort or for dignity? Do they scratch?
2. What makes their walk distinctive? Are they graceful or clumsy? Do they walk with a limp? Are they in pain? Do they walk on the tips of their toes? Do they clunk along?
3. When they talk, where do they usually put their hands? Hands in pockets could be a sign of insecurity. Playing with hair is a sign of flirting. Picking cuticles could be nerves or stress.
“I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one.”
― Marilyn Monroe
4. Does their hair get in the way of their eyes? Do they touch it often? Women often touch their hair unconsciously when they want to get the attention of a man.
5. Does your character have any nervous tics, like popping knuckles or picking cuticles? What do they do when the cuticles bleed? Do they bite their fingernails or fidget?
6. Would your character be strong in a particular area, say their legs or upper arms? Do they have a history of fitness? Do they walk or run much? Will this fitness play a role in the story later?
7. Does your character smile easily? Why or why not? What is it that makes them smile? Are they self conscious about anything regarding their smile, like their braces or yellow teeth? Do they ever bite their lips or fidget with cracked lips?
“Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror.”
― P.G. Wodehouse
8. When your character is bored, how do they hold themselves? Where do they put their eyes? What makes them bored? What do they do when they are irritated?
9. Are your character’s true emotions visible on their countenance? Or can they hide it well?
10. Do your characters hands have callouses? Brittle nails? Does your character spend time keeping nails a uniform length or do they not care? Do they get manicures? Does their livelihood have anything to do with their hands?
11. Are there any visible scars that have a story for your character? Were there childhood accidents that can be explained? Abuse? Last month’s bar fight?
“Appearance matters a great deal because you can often tell a lot about people by looking at how they present themselves.”
― Lemony Snicket,
12. Are there any tattoos that have a story for your character? Are the tattoos a whimsical decision or one well thought out? Does your character have a specific look they are after?
13. Does your character’s self-perception of their body make a difference? Is your character insecure about anything? Do they suck in their gut around the opposite sex? What do they hate when they look in the mirror? Do they love something specific? What do they wish they could change?
14. When your character is with others, do they stand with open arms, receiving others, or do they close up to reject others? Is your character a hugger? Do they have a problem with certain kinds of touching? Do they ever overdo it?
“Posture is Paramount.”
― Cindy Ann Peterson,
15. Is your character’s coloring — their hair, and skin color — significant to the story? Do they sunburn easily? Do they look like a particular nationality or race? Are they ever mistaken for another? Is their hair color authentic? Why or why not? Are they trying to look younger or older?
16. Are the cares of life evident on your character’s face? Are they wrinkled? Do they have the pale skin or the wrinkled lips of a smoker? Do they have worry lines or laugh lines? Freckles? Blemishes? Unruly eyebrows?
Your characters should be rich and dynamic creations that your readers fall in love with.
Consider these questions when creating their appearance and determining their body language. Through their appearance, they can help tell a great story.
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Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.