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Tips for body language and description.

In last week’s post about tips outside of story structure, a lot of you remarked about body language. Personally, I think how a writer uses body language especially through out dialogue can elevate a novel from amateur to reading like a published novel.

Of course, there will be lots of: said, asked, muttered, added, smiled – words that are invisible. And we want invisible words especially during scenes where we want the reader to focus on the words being spoken.

But we also don’t want talking heads. So weaving in body language through a stretch of dialogue is crucial. You could read craft books, but I think the best place to learn is the books you have on your shelf or your library.

And when it’s not dialogue, we use body language and description to show instead of tell.

Well-crafted body language

  • Uses specific word choice
  • creates a mental image
  • shows the emotion by extending the movement
  • conveys the undertones and subtext
  • reveals character – especially secondary characters.

So I pulled some books from the stacks by my bed. In the following examples, with the dialogue taken out, these characters are well defined. Who’s the mean girl? Who’s the dork? Who’s the laid back jock?


  • “dialogue” Celeste interrupted my daydream with a sharp finger snap in my face.
  • Celeste rolled her eyes, yet the clumps of mascara managed to stay put. “dialogue”
  • “dialogue” she glanced at Hayden, then pinned her eyes back on me.
  • Hayden’s laugh came out in staccatos tsk-tsks.
  • “dialogue” Hayden yawned. “dialogue”
  • “dialogue” Hayden stuck his hands into the pockets of his Bermuda shorts. “dialogue”


  • “Dialogue” Seth said between bites of his sandwich.
  • Seth leaned against the gray metal filing cabinet, lost his footing and almost fell on the floor. Once he recovered, he reached into his blazer pocket to pull out a plastic bag containing a crustless PB&J….”dialogue”


I bristle, skin contracting, quivering like the plucked bow of a violin. My wings start to vibrate with hot emotion, shooting lancing pain through the injured membrane and deep into my back. I wince, forcing myself to relax.

(And just think. The author could’ve just said something like, “My legs shook as pain shot through my back. I breathed deep and tried to relax.”

Standing, I fold my wings close to my body and run, darting wildly through the crowd of trees as the engines grow louder. (nice extension of run)

Challenge: Go through some of your favorite books and spend time picking out the body language used during dialogue. Then pick one of your own scenes, pinpoint the emotion behind the dialogue and create body language unique to each character and their emotional experience.  #don’tgooverboard

You might like In defense of description

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In defense of description.


You’d better not include it in your story. Because don’t you know? Kids can’t focus anymore long enough to read it. They’ll put your story down and move on to their video games.

I’m not so sure.

Along with telling and backstory, description is another aspect of writing that has been banned. As in beginner writers fear to put more than one line of it anywhere on a page. Or they don’t know any better and they have pages and pages of description that aren’t relevant to the story.

What I’ve learned about description:

  • When I describe something it should be in proportion to its importance to the story.
  • I don’t need five sentences of description every time I introduce a character. Instead, weave it in through out the action and dialogue.
  • Description helps to set the mood of a story.
  • Description brings my story into focus.
  • Description or showing the details makes my story world believable. Think Hogwarts.
  • Description is more than what a person or place looks like.
  • Word choice in description should reflect the main character’s pov or narrator.
  • Description offers a great opportunity to plant clues, mislead the reader, add to the emotional impact of a scene, or add symbols of your theme.

So, the trial is over. Telling, backstory, and description can throw off their black capes and masks. They aren’t the villains. They’re your friends.

Analyze books you love to see how the authors managed these aspects of writing. Some books require more or less depending on the audience, genre and effect you want.

Here and here are two links about writing description. Check them out!

Do you have any tips for description?  Are there other aspects to writing you feel have been given a bad reputation?

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