How to Use Open and Closed Body Language in Writing

One woman with six different facial expressions

Have you ever looked at a stranger and thought they were stuck up, rude or shy? We all make initial judgments based on people’s body language. In writing, it is important to portray how characters are feeling without saying the actual words.

In this post, we are going to explore open and closed body language and how you can enhance your story.

In writing, Show Don’t Tell emphasizes body language and actions over exposition to explore the story and characters. Rather than describing the author’s analysis with adjectives, it describes the scene so that readers can draw their own conclusions.

Scholars attribute the concept to Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, who said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Three images of body language, open arms, closed arms and boy with hands on his face

Created in Canva.

Closed Body Language

Closed body language can manifest as boredom, defensiveness or hiding.


If two of your characters are speaking and one of them was bored, how would you show it? One way to show closed body language would be to have one character keep a level gaze. Or they could be constantly distracted by every little noise or movement which would show that they aren’t listening or paying attention.

Closed body language can also be shown by unresponsiveness hands and feet. Glazed or twitching eyes. A huge yawn or slouching is another clue.

It is important to use body language while your characters speak. Facial, and hand movements can help to emphasize the mood or emotion that you are trying to get across.

Image by Shlomaster from Pixabay.


Closed body language can also present a defensive action for people as well. When a character feels threatened, physically or verbally, their body will react. They will get into either a defensive mode or an aggressive mode.

A defensive mode is a self-preservation mode, a character could curl up in a ball to protect vulnerable organs and body parts in case of an attack.

An aggressive mode is an offensive mode. It is way more than a character being punched in the face or them punching someone. Facial and body language can alert them to potential threats.

Image by Republica from Pixabay.


Another reason characters may exhibit closed body language is that they are trying to hide something from the other characters such as tears or facial expressions.

Image by ambermb  from Pixabay.

Examples of Closed Body Language

What is an example of closed body language?  Some examples of closed body could include:

  • avoiding eye contact
  • arms crossed
  • curling up in a ball
  • rocking
  • tightly folded arms
  • self hug formation
  • legs crossed or twisted
  • legs intertwined with one another
  • downward gaze
  • eyes fixated on an object

Open Body Language

Characters with open body language are generally expressed by smiling faces, relaxed posture and comfortable stances. Their hand and arms express their openness. If a character mirrors another, this may be a genuine sign that they are interested in another character.

Image by Jess Foami from Pixabay.

Examples of Open Body Language

Open body language can manifest in different ways. Here are some examples:

  • moving arms casually
  • maintaining eye contact
  • nodding and smiling
  • uncrossed legs
  • leaning into the conversation
  • an upturned face
  • laughing

Extreme Changes

However, if a character is exhibiting closed body language and then changes to an open presentation, it exhibits an extreme change in emotion.

For example, if one character is talking to another who is curled up in a fetal position (exhibiting closed body language) and then all of the sudden they spring up to an upright stance and start smiling (exhibiting open body language) more than likely something was said during the conversation that triggered an extreme mood change.

Last Words on Body Language

In this second installment of the body language series, we discussed open and closed body language in writing. 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 Jonathan Alvarez 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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