How to Use Emotional Body Language in Your Writing

Abstract look at a woman

Do your characters show emotions or emotional body language? Can your readers tell when they are happy, sad, or angry? Consciously or unconsciously, as humans, we all send and receive messages through body language. It is virtually impossible for us not to use our bodies when we interact with each other. That’s why it is important that characters do the same.

In this ninth installment of the body language series, we will explore emotional body language.

Emotional body language is a very broad area as a person or character feels many emotions.

Studies and behavioural experiments have shown that facial and body expressions live in harmony when conveying visible signs of a person’s emotional state. Studies in Psychology tell us that the effect you have on others depends on what you say from the mouth (7%), the manner in which you say it (38%), and your body language (55%). In addition, how you sound also imparts a message, so 93% of emotion transpires without actual words.

Many different facial expression of one woman

Photo by Andrea piqued at Pexels.

Types of Emotional Body Language

Emotional body language is a very broad area, as a character feels many emotions. Although happy and sad body language are opposites, some other emotions like anger and sadness can intertwine.

There are many non-verbal signs that can help you determine what emotion another character feels, however they are not exclusive and no two characters react the same way to the same situation. What would make one character upset may not phase another.


A character may be angry for many reasons. They may have failed a test, had a bad day at work, broken up with a partner, or had an incident with a laptop and a password they can’t reset.

Just remember that like people, characters will react differently to situations depending on their personality, childhood, mood or other variables.

What Are The Signs of Anger?

Common body language signals of anger are:

  • a flushed (red) face and/or neck,
  • a clenched jaw
  • a clenched fist
  • pacing
  • invasion of the personal space of another
  • using aggressive or powerful body language.

Fear, Anxiety, and Nervousness

A character may be anxious/afraid because they are walking down a dark street by themselves. They have to give a speech in front of a crowd or break some bad news to another character.

Fear, anxiety, and nervousness can all present similarly and have common characteristics in body language.

What are the Signs of Fear, Anxiety and Nervousness?

Characters could use hand movements when discussing how the backyard deck design should be done or when determining which direction to turn while driving.

Internal and external common body language signals include:

  • breaking out in a cold sweat
  • pale face
  • dry mouth
  • diverting from eye contact
  • on the verge of tears
  • damp eyes
  • trembling lip
  • twitching eye
  • voice tremors
  • stuttering
  • cracks in voice
  • sweating
  • heightened pulse
  • clenched fist
  • clenched muscles
  • clenched jaw
  • extended periods of holding their breath
  • fidgety body movements

Many of these body language signals also show under other emotions other than fear, anxiety, and/or nervousness. You can also add dialogue so your readers can determine the exact emotion the character is feeling.

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A character may be sad because they lost a loved one, suffer from depression, ended a relationship, had plans canceled, because of a rainy day, or a variety of other reasons.

What are the Signs of Sadness?

Common sadness signals are:

  • slouching
  • drooping shoulders
  • limp-like body
  • trembling lips
  • teary eyes
  • flat speech tone


Embarrassment in a teenage character could happen because their mother yelled at them in public, or even acknowledged their existence. Or from not having fashionable clothes or being caught staring at someone.

What are the Signs of Embarrassment?

Embarrassment can present as:

  • a red face
  • grimaced face
  • avoidance of eye contact
  • a meek smile
  • withdrawing from a situation
  • covering the face with hands
A young boy with his hands on his face

Image by Anita S. from Pixabay.


A character can show surprise when someone brings them flowers, jumps out in front of them, or another character does something unusual.

What are the Signs of Surprise?

Surprise can show up as:

  • widening eyes
  • raised eyebrows
  • the mouth may drop open
  • hand over the heart
  • a sudden movement backward


A job promotion, a new puppy, a good grade on a paper, a walk in the park, a sunny day, a good book or a new relationship are all reasons for happiness.

What are the Signs of Happiness?

We can express surprise with:

  • tears of joy
  • smiling mouth
  • bright eyes
  • overall relaxed demur
  • A happy dance
  • jumping around
  • clapping
  • swinging arms


It is important to note that characters will handle their emotion in different ways depending on their personality. An extrovert may jump around, raising their arms over their heads shouting wildly when they are happy. An introvert may only present a slight smile, although they are both happy. This applies to all emotional body language to take that into account when writing your characters.

Last Words on Emotional Body Language

In this ninth installment of the body language series, we discussed using emotional body language and several types of emotions. How do you use body language in your writing? Let me know in the comments. Be sure to come back in the next few weeks for more body language tips for your novel.

Take Care



Feature photo by 5688709 from Pixabay.



Body Language Series

Missed any segments in the body language series? You can catch up here:

Body Language

Open and Closed

Aggressive and Defensive


Dominant and Submissive

Relaxed and Ready


Attentive and Evaluative





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