Show Not Tell – Using Body Language to Show Emotions

I was checking out my blog stats last week (as you do) and noticed a lot of searches had been made about how to ‘show not tell’ in fiction for specific emotions. So I’ve had a little root around the internet, on sites which talk about body language, and come up the following suggestions for character actions which could be used to reveal their inner turmoil.

How to show Boredom

Not paying attention

– looking around a room
– not looking at person speaking
– body not facing the person speaking
– watching a clock / looking at their watch
– doing something distracting, such as doodling

Repetitive actions

– drumming fingers
– tapping toes
– swinging feet

Signs of tiredness

– yawning
– body sagging or slouching
– sitting hunched forwards
– leaning against a wall

Not listening

– agreeing with conversation
– giving an incorrect answer
– nodding head at an inappropriate moment

How to show Anxiety

Physical effects

– pale face or extremities
– wide pupils
– downcast eyes
– dry throat, clearing of throat
– sweating

Change in movements

– inability to remain still
– looking around for an exit or pointing the feet toward exit route
– fiddling with small items or their hair,
– constantly shifting in a chair
– touching the face, crossing the arms
– biting fingernails
– jiggling pocket contents
– whistling

How to show a Liar

By their actions

– placing object between themselves and questioner
– turning body away from questioner
– touching nose or mouth
– obscuring mouth with hand or object
– blinking more often or rubbing eyes
– leaning away from questioner
– swallowing or gulping

By their conversation

– adding more detail to conversation than necessary
– leaving out the pronoun when they speak
– speaking sentences which don’t quite make sense
– speaking softly
– using humour or sarcasm to avoid subject

There’s plenty of good information about body language in books and on the internet, so next time you want to ‘show’ how your character is feeling, why not try using a bit of science know-how to help you along.

If you have enjoyed this post – you might like to see how I put my methods into practice in my other work by reading SNAP by Lizzie Hexter, available from,,,, iTunes and Kobo.

11 thoughts on “Show Not Tell – Using Body Language to Show Emotions

  1. Lorrie, this is a very useful post. Thanks for helping out a whole world full of writers. I particularly the one about the liar. Live and learn, I guess. Well done!

  2. Nice research, writers have a huge job to convince readers. Its really significant to think of such big stuff that you have highlighted. Thanks for opening me up.

  3. P.A.Lewis Brown says:

    I found the above really helpful and I’ve made notes. I love this blog. Keep it coming P.A.Lewis Brown.

  4. […] Show Not Tell – Using Body Language to Show Emotions. […]

  5. Thank you all for saying such lovely things. It’s nice to know the blog is doing a good job.

  6. Junior says:

    Nice post on slowing it down and showing the many ways to show over tell!

  7. Hi, Lorrie. I’m writing my first novel and bookmarking many of your posts. Thanks!

  8. This is a great list! Thanks for posting!

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