Writing Beginner

Body Writing 101 (Ultimate Guide for Beginners)

Body writing is a way to connect with a partner or other significant other.

If you haven’t tried it or are new to the practice, this is your ultimate guide to body writing 101. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know.

What Is Body Writing?

Body writing is the act of writing or drawing on someone’s body with a pen, pencil, or another instrument. It can be used as a form of communication, to show affection, or for personal empowerment and gratification. Body writing is also a common fetish in BDSM.

Example of body writing—words written on a man

Writing on the body can be cute, innocent, powerful, or humiliating. It can also be quite provocative.

It really depends on the two (or more) people involved—and what you write on the body.

Types of Body Writing

There are several types of body scribbling. Since this is the ultimate guide, I want to share a shortlist and then dive into the details.

The shortlist of types:

What Is BDSM Body Writing?

This is a type of writing on the body used in Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadochism and Masochism (BDSM) relationships.

It is usually more erotic than other types.

It tends to include possessive language like “owned” and “property of.” There may even be roles and labels of “daddy,” “little,” and even a metaphorical “slave” (all with consent).

Here is a good video that goes over BDSM writing on the body in more detail:

What Is Hentai Body Writing?

This type of writing on the body usually involves anime or Manga characters in various states of undress.

The anime characters might be alone or with other characters.

Note: The images can get pretty explicit.

You can read a great article about general anime writing over here.

What Is Long-Distance Body Writing?

Long-distance writing on the body mostly happens in long-distance relationships (LDRs).

One person requests that the other partner write a word or a phrase on their body. Subsequently, one partner might write a word or phrase on their own body.

The words can range from romantic (dream girl) to more personal and intimate messages (I love you).

Long-distance body writing can be a way for two partners to connect.

This can be very helpful in LDRs because of the physical distance. Partners understandably want to connect with each other in any way possible.

What Is Humiliation Body Writing?

In this form of writing on the body, one person is the dominant partner and the other is the submissive partner.

The dominant decides what will be written on the body of the submissive. This type of writing can be a form of erotic humiliation or done simply for fun.

It’s important to note that both partners must be comfortable with this type of body writing.

Also, be sure that the writing is temporary and quickly removable.

What Is Cute Body Writing?

Cute or innocent writing on the body is non-erotic and sometimes non-romantic.

It involves writing with positive, friendly intent.

Unlike the more adult-themed body scribbling, this type can be done between partners, friends, family members, and even co-workers.

For example:

What Is Empowering Body Writing?

This is when you write on your body or someone else’s body with the purpose of empowerment.

Writing on your body can be a way to reclaim yourself, your body, and/or sexuality.

It can also be a way to increase self-esteem or confidence.

What Is Permanent Body Writing?

Most of the time, writing on the body is temporary.

Body writers use pens or markers that easily wash off in a few hours or days. Permanent body writing is just that: more permanent.

For example, it can be written in the form of a temporary or permanent tattoo.

What Is Public Body Writing?

Public writing on the body is when someone writes or draws on someone else’s body in a public setting.

This could be at a party, during a performance, or in any other social situation.

Public body writing can be cute, erotic, or empowering.

What Is the Purpose?

There are many purposes of body scribbling.

Some people do it for fun, some do it as a form of communication, and some do it to empower themselves or others.

The main purpose is to express something in a visual way.

Here is a list of possible purposes:

Some people write things on their bodies to remember them for later.

For example, I might write a phone number on my hand.

If I don’t have a piece of paper or note-taking utensil, a quick note on my body might jog my memory later.

How Do I Get Started?

The best way to get started is by picking a comfortable spot on your body or your partner’s body.

Almost anywhere can work.

However, keep in mind where you or your partner needs to go. If your partner is headed to work later, be sure to write somewhere they can easily conceal.

There is no reason to get in trouble on the job.

Another tip is to moisturize the body part before writing to make removal much easier.

Next, choose a writing utensil.

Choose what you want to say. If someone else is involved, make sure they consent to the message.

I’ve found the best way to write clearly is if my partner is sitting, standing, or lying still. Any movement can lead to sloppy, incoherent words.

Once you’ve written your message, take a picture.

This is a great way to remember the moment.

What Materials Do You Need?

All you need is a body, a writing implement, and somewhere to write without interruption.

However, there are some materials that can make the experience more fun or interesting:

Best Markers for Body Writing

Here are my favorite markers for writing on my body or my partner’s body:

How Do I Clean Up?

There are a few ways to clean up body writing:

How Long Does Body Writing Last?

Most writing on your body only lasts a few hours or days.

However, if you use a permanent marker or tattoo, the writing can anywhere from a few weeks to a lifetime.

Before you write on a body, make sure you know the timeframe.

It’s bad luck to need to go to work or to a family wedding with words scrawled all over your body.

What are the Risks?

There are very few risks involved with body writing.

The most common (but rare) risks are infection and skin irritation. If you’re using a pen or marker, it’s important not to let the ink bleed.

In addition, be mindful of what you write.

Make sure the message is consensual and accepted by everyone involved.

Some people feel self-conscious or uncomfortable with body writing. Others absolutely love it.

Body Writing vs. Body Swap Writing

These are two very different types of writing. One is writing on the body and the other is a genre or form of fiction.

For example, body swap writing is a popular subgenre in fanfiction.

It could be a fanfiction body swap between Harry Potter and the Power Rangers . Or Spider-Man and Captain Kirk.

Essentially, body swap writing is when two characters trade bodies.

This can be a fun way to explore different character traits or just have some laughs.

Is Body Writing Fun?

Yes, it can be a lot of fun.

You can experiment with different inks, stamps, and materials. You can also play body writing roulette or do a body writing dare.

Body writing roulette is when each player takes a turn writing on the other player’s body.

It can be a playful way to get creative with your messages or just have some innocent fun.

Dares can also be a lot of fun.

For example, you can dare your partner to write a specific word in a particular place.

Body Writing Ideas

To make this a complete guide, I want to give you as many ideas for body scribbling as possible.

Enjoy this list of ideas:

Final Thoughts

I encourage you to try this practice. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy writing on yourself and your significant other.

Before you go, here are a few related posts hand-picked just for you:

Table of Contents

body writing

body writing

Writing the Body: Trauma, Illness, Sexuality, and Beyond

Eileen myles, ruth ozeki, porochista khakpour, anna march & alexandra kleeman.

In September, Michele Filgate’s quarterly Red Ink Series—focused on women writers, past and present—brought together Eileen Myles, Ruth Ozeki, Porochista Khakpour, Anna March, and Alexandra Kleeman for a wide-ranging discussion about writing the body, from health to gender, sexuality, and beyond. The next Red Ink event, “ Writing About Depression ,” will take place at BookCourt this Thursday, 12/8.

Michele Filgate:  I wanted to start out by reading a quote from Rene Gladman’s new book Calamity that Leads Books just published. I really recommend it. She says, “I began the day trying to say the word ‘body’ as many times as I could, for myself and for everyone in the room. I wanted to exchange the word with all my correspondents. I wanted to say ‘body’ to them: How is your body, or Write through the body, or How does the body activate objects in the room. I hoped to say ‘body’ and see a change come over your face: inside your body, the edge of the body, your body split. (I split you.) I hoped to reach a point in speaking where when it was time to say ‘body’ I could go silent instead. I’d pause and everyone in the room would sound the word within themselves. I’d go, ‘Every time you put a hole in the _____,’ and demur. Lower my head like a 40-watt bulb, look solemn. Or say, ‘We all carry something in our _____,’ and the collective internal silent hum would overwhelm my senses. This would be real communication: something you started in your _____ would finish in mine.”

So I put together this panel because I think it’s so important to talk about bodies, about women and bodies. Some of these questions may be directed to individual authors but I encourage anyone to answer or chime in whenever they want.

Ruth, in The Face: A Time Code , you sat in front of the mirror for three hours and wrote about your face. How did this mirror change the way you think about your body and your writing, and can you also tell us what your Zen is?

Ruth Ozeki:  Sure, well mirror Zen, it turns out, is actually a practice, though I didn’t realize that at the time I came up with this idea to sit in front of a mirror for three hours and observe my face. The reason I did this was really kind of practical. I needed to write this commission for Restless Books—an essay about my face—and when I actually thought about sitting down to do this, it was just so appalling to me that I needed some kind of device that would get me through. Being a Zen practitioner, and certainly being a Zen writer, the way I approach these things is to sit with whatever it is that I’m writing. So in this case I thought, “Well I’ll just put a mirror up, and I’ll sit with my face for three hours”—which seemed like a suitably painful length of time—”and something will happen, right? Something will happen.”

It was interesting because after I did this, and in fact after I wrote the essay, I discovered that there is really a practice called mirror Zen. It started in Kamakura, at a temple called Tōkei-ji. It was a nunnery, and it was the only place in Japan during, you know the, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th    centuries—around that time—where a woman could get a divorce. Women who were trying to escape abusive marriages, or who wanted to be divorced, would come to the nunnery, and they would throw their shoes over the nunnery gate, and that would gain them admittance. Then they would sit for three years and study their reflections in a mirror—they would sit zazen in front of a mirror—and the idea is that, by doing so, you start to understand your attachments and your aversions to your face. It’s a way of reclaiming your image.

So, I think that’s kind of what happened during those three years—three hours. It felt like three years. By sitting there, what I started to realize was that these were all stories that I had—that the face is just filled with stories, and the body is filled with stories. That was an interesting realization, and I think that the most sort of profound part of that was really at the end of three hours, when I walked out of the apartment, and I looked around, and it was astonishing because everyone had faces. Everyone has this complex relationship with—and sort of embedded stories in—their faces, and of course we can’t really see that in each other’s faces. But just the practice of sitting there for three hours opened up this world. So that was really wonderful.

MF:  That sounds terrifying and amazing at the same time. Have any of you ever spent that much time looking at the mirror?

Eileen Myles:  I just want to chime in that the phrase “the Zen writer” is amazing, an amazing pair of words I’ve never heard together like that. It’s really exciting.

MF:  Eileen, I read an interview with you in Rookie mag where you said, “In some way I want my writing to take care of me. I want to live in my worlds. I want to carry my world with me like a shell. I want a home.” Do you think of your body as a home? And do you feel more comfortable with your body on or off the page?

EM:  I sort of feel like writing creates the body, in a way. When I really think about how I felt when I was a kid—I mean, when I was a kid I guess I wrote somewhat, but I drew more, you know. That somehow delivered me into dreams and into some awkward state; it was some way to bear the present, or school, or whatever. But when I stop to think about it, when I really began to have a pretty frequent practice of setting words down, I started to exist. I started to exist on the page. It was almost like until I was out there, I couldn’t be in here, you know? I absolutely don’t say—I could never say—that I feel at home in my body, but I think that my writing created a safe place for it. Putting it out there created an account, or relay, which is kind of the world and my position in it. It’s really literal because so many of us have gotten to our identities through our writing, like it or not. Then you can feel kind of weighed down by that identity. But it started there and I still—I mean, the practice of keeping a journal is not constant in my life, but it’s important because then I’m very aware of when I’m not writing stuff in my journal. When I do, I know there’s a sort of presence, and it’s different from poetry and different from a writing project. It’s all very similar to the way you were describing looking at your face in the mirror and dropping those words on the page. The journal is a self-created image that starts to make it be that I’m here.

RO:  It’s a reflection, too.

EM:  Absolutely. Yeah.

Anna March:  The thing that’s interesting to me about Eileen talking about getting your identity from writing—and I got a lot of this as a young women from her writing, actually—is how you get a lot of your identity from the identity marker of being a woman in society. So you don’t escape that, or you don’t live beyond that—a lot of times it determines the way culture looks at you, the way the world looks at you. So as much as I don’t want to go all Heidegger, I’m thinking about the way that you enter the space by dwelling in the space. I entered the space of feminism, and I entered the space of my body, by writing in it, but also the world enters me through that space of my body, for better or worse, and through the writing as well. So I think that’s kind of what were here about—how were at home in it and how we are not at home in it and alienated from it.

EM: So often they’ll say “she’s there,” but that doesn’t mean that I’m there. They start talking to “her,” and that’s not me. There’s a whole way of, you know, you start as an absence and then you have to write yourself into another thing.

AM:  When you start all that caught up identity of “her,” who’s “her”?

Porochista Khakpour: For me, I’ve never felt that my personality matches me physically, so I’ve always felt out of place. I said at some event last year that I felt uncomfortable in every environment I’ve ever been in. I constantly feel uncomfortable. Everybody makes me uncomfortable: my family, my friends, lovers. Everybody I meet I’m not at ease. So I can try to write from a man’s perspective. I’ve written from the perspective of people with no sexuality. I’ve written from magical perspectives. It’s like an endless quest because, for me, the body is not a temple, and nature is not benevolent. I happen to be somebody who is ill with a pretty seriously chronic illness, so what I get really uncomfortable about is when women—I feel like there’s this goddess culture, right? Loving your body. I mean, I was a yoga teacher at one point, and I was the worst yoga teacher. But it was so violent for me because I don’t like super-feminine identity stuff. I’m wearing a dress tonight, and I know what I might look like, but I find it to be really uncomfortable and hypersexualizing. So I’m still trying to escape the body. Writing for me is my escape from it. It’s kind of like what Eileen is saying: it’s a way for me to multiply my identity so that I’m not trapped in this one.

Alexandra Kleeman:  I just wanted to second what you said, about never feeling like you’re clean, or matching your external appearance. I remember going through puberty and having this experience that people were finding messages in my body that I never placed there. I have no way to rewrite them, but taking them to the page is a way to create reality, or specifically, recreate reality, as a way of taking that back.

MF:  Porochista, you mentioned earlier that you’re chronically ill. You have a memoir coming out called Sick about dealing with late-stage Lyme disease, and you experienced a relapse while you were writing about it. I’m curious—Virginia Woolf wrote in her essay on being ill, “Illness is the great confessional . . . Things are said. Truths blurted out which the cautious respectability of health conceals.” Did you find that to be true while working on your book, and now that you’ve finished the book, do you feel differently about your body?

PK:  The book that I sold, I thought I was going to be well—that I’d gotten cured from late-stage Lyme and cured of all my addictions. So I sold the book as really cheerful, like “Yay, I’m a survivor!” Actually, it was going to be a really shitty book, I think because there was all this false promise of, “You too can be strong like me and in the world.” But then I got hit by a car, an 18 wheeler, and I had this horrible Lyme relapse last winter where it threatened me daily. It threatened my writing life daily. So I actually couldn’t write it. To my editor, I was like, “Hey, do you think I can have some extra time because I heard writers always get extra on books.” They were like, “No,” and I was like, “I’m in the hospital, and there’s no reading of my liver, and they think I might be dying.” They said, “We’ll see if we can . . . maybe give it to us by May.” I was like “Okay, this is fucked up.”

I just somehow did it, but it was really dark, and the thing that helped me a lot was actually social media and writing to strangers. Maybe sort of like what Virginia Woolf was saying—I don’t know if she would be on social media a lot—but I was sharing a lot of inappropriate things. People were writing me like, “I kind of feel like you’re crossing some lines; it’s kind of gross. Did they really need to know about all the blood and all of that?” I had a lot of Miss Manners writing to me on Facebook, and I was like, “Go fuck yourself. First of all I’ve never been someone who’s that pristine or good.” But I was desperate, and my own friends and family were the least helpful people. People in the illness community—there’s a whole underworld there, and it appealed to me in a way that punk rock appealed to me. It’s this other world of invisible people who are all desperate and all there, coming up with crazy solutions. So Sick  became a very different book, and I’m still finishing edits now. I resent saying illness is a teacher. I hate that stuff. But in a way it was, I guess.

MF:  I have a question for you, Anna. In a piece you wrote for Literary Orphans called “What’s In a Name,” you say, “To rewrite our own redemption by telling ourselves our own true stories.” And you wrote a really terrific short story on angels this year called “Sometimes the Angel Has Dreadlocks and Talks Dirty to You.” Yes, we’re getting into the sex portion of the writing about bodies. I’m wondering—there are some really vivid and spectacular sex scenes in that story. When you write about sex, are you writing so you can inhabit your own body more, even if the body is fictional? I’m asking this of all of you.

AM:  No, I’m not writing to inhabit my own body more, but I’m want to talk about another thing related to that question. First, though, I want to talk about what Porochista said about the policing. I write monthly for Salon ; I’ve written a lot about my body. I was a part of the Body Parts section of Salon for a while. There’s very little about my body that I haven’t published somewhere. But I live part-time in this town of 500 people . . . 500 people. I just want to say again,  500 people , and if you come up to me after I’ll tell you all of their names and all of their dogs. So I’m 48, I’m a raw feminist, a feminist killjoy, and I’m totally in your face about it, but I won’t buy tampons in my town. Because I’m 48, but I’m 14, right? I don’t want to get Charlie, who hands me my turkey sandwich four days a week to ask me questions about my period. I just don’t.

So I wrote this piece in Salon about how feminists need to not tolerate men. Feminism has a men’s problem. Forty percent of progressive men identify as feminist vs. eighty percent of progressive women. That is some bullshit. So, Eileen Myles comes over on my page and tells people to blow me when they’re giving me a hard time about Salon. Now I’m feeling all empowered, right? So I decide to go buy tampons. I get the tampons, and Charlie says, “Do you need Advil? Are ya’ feeling all right?” And I’m like, “Can I just get my tampons?” But he’s really sweet, and he’d say the same thing if I was buying Orajel. He’d be like, “Do you have a toothache?” So, a month later I go back and buy more tampons from Charlie. And he goes, “Didn’t you just have your period two weeks ago?” And I’m kind of pissed off. I shouldn’t have been, really. But I’m kind of pissed off, so I say that there’s an app—that you can track your period on the app. So Charlie, who is like 73 and the nicest person, who gives me half a pound of turkey on my sandwich, says, “I’d like to have that app so I can slip some chocolates in your bag for when you’re having PMS.” So here I am, this big bitch.

I go home, and do what I do because I live in a town of 500 people —did I mention that?—and I post it on Facebook. Right away a very important feminist—like, if you Google “very important feminist,” her name is the first one—she writes me, and she says, “You know, Annie, you really shouldn’t let people talk about your body that way.” I’m only trying to tell this nice story about how I live in this town, and how I’m 14 even though I’m not, and how I’m trying to do this thing, and here’s this guy who’s just totally not weird about it. What does feminist mean? It means living in your body out loud. But then I get policed, and people start sharing it, and there’s this full discussion going on about how it’s not okay. So I’m the one that has to deal with this story about inhabiting my body.

I don’t know if I write fiction that way, but it’s certainly true of my nonfiction that I write to inhabit my body more and also to hold myself to what I’m calling for or trying to call for in the world, which is to be more integrated, and to stop being ashamed of your body. I go out and have these talks around the country about shame in your body and all this stuff, and then I won’t buy tampons? No. So I’m trying to integrate that more. In terms of my fiction, though, I write what I like, and what I want to like, and I try to stay true to my characters.

MF:  Back to sex. Why is it so difficult to write about sex? There are awards for bad sex writing, but there aren’t really awards, as far as I know, for bad food writing or bad nature writing, even those can be tough to write about too. So I’m wondering, why sex? What’s difficult about it?

AM:  I think there’s a lot of policing. I participated in a talk for PEN this year called “Beyond Lolita”—which Michele curated or moderated, one of them. It was about writers writing. We had Steve Almond over there saying you should never do these nine things. Then we had Cheryl Strayed saying you should always do these nine things in your writing. I think there are two things: One, a lot of sex writing ignores that women have bodies, and have periods, and buy tampons, and have breasts, and have orgasms, and have them in different ways than men. We have this whole canon of literature where none of that is brought forth. So then when women start writing about that, or men write that about women, it’s like, “Ew, what’s going on?” Lidia Yuknavitch talked about this. Cheryl talked about how she had to fight for the four sex scenes that are in her memoir. I think there’s this sort of notion of “we don’t do that.” Scott Spencer, who wrote Endless Love , which is a horrible movie but a beautiful book, has some of the best—Jonathan Yardley, who hated everything said, “For a few hours of my life it broke my heart. It had some of the most magical, dazzling sex scenes.” He has this 13 page sex scene where Jade has her period, and they’re having sex, and there’s blood everywhere.

I think a lot of this is gendered, and I think also a lot of it is about comfort. There’s also this perception that less is more, and I don’t understand less is more. Why is less more? Why is that? Because Toni Morrison said that once in a Paris Review interview? Alyssa and I have had that fight on panels about this topic. She’s like, “Well, I think less is more,” but why? We can have 20 pages about people sitting at the dining room table which we’re supposed to keep. But then they fuck for, like, one sentence? I don’t get it. And now I won’t talk anymore.

RO:  I was just going to say that we have to parse out this difference between bad sex and bad writing. So there’s bad sex, there’s bad writing, and then there’s bad writing about bad sex. I think these are distinctions that are worth naming. Probably the reason that there are no awards for bad food writing or bad nature writing is that food and nature aren’t really funny in the way that sex is funny, especially when it’s written about badly. I was hanging out with a group of writer friends of mine when Fifty Shades of Grey first came out, and I did an interpretive reading of the first two chapters. In the first two chapters of Fifty Shades of Grey there is very little sex. There’s just a lot of implying that there will be, but it’s so much fun to read out loud. Anyway, I think that there is something to be said for bad writing about bad sex. There’s a virtue there.

PK:  Wait, where can we hear Ruth Ozeki read Fifty Shades of Grey ? [ Laughter. ]

MF:  That will be the next event.

RO:  It was a wonderful group of women. It was Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Hamilton, Dorothy Allison, and we were all living it up.

EM:  Isn’t all porn bad? I don’t mean like gnarly bad, but what I mean is almost anybody I know who likes porn likes certain kinds of bad—they’re like, “I love bad 70s porn.” It’s sort of like the off register is the register.

AM:  And if it’s true to character, is it bad? If your character is weird about sex and awkward, and can’t talk dirty in bed, and then tries to, then you should write that. You should be true to your characters no matter who they are. If you’re writing fiction, then you should be true to yourself and honest as much as the piece requires just like you would about anything else in nonfiction, right? I don’t think it’s that complicated. I think we make it complicated.

PK:  I think it goes back to that idea about being honest. That’s where the humor comes in; that’s why we like awkward sex because my guess is that most people mostly have awkward sex. I don’t know, maybe I do. I think that we haven’t been honest throughout history; women’s bodies have been overly idealized and porno always presents this type of ideal. So we just haven’t been ourselves as human beings a lot. This is something my gynecologist said to me that’s so tragic. Many women don’t realize until much later in life what ovulation looks like or what it is, and they come and say they have yeast infections or something. Nobody ever told me about ovulation when I was in school. I didn’t even know what that was supposed to feel like. We don’t know these things. We are constantly disassociated from our bodies, our own physical realities, so we either go into the realm of the purple—which is like the overly idealized or that sort of porn thing—or it’s clinical, and there’s no in-between. I think this is a good time to be alive because we’re just approaching a sort of raw honesty.

EM:  Have you guys seen the new drawings of the clit?

RO:  Oh, yeah . . .

EM:  It’s all over the media because they have 3D models now and never drawings. The thing that’s really weird is that they had these drawings several centuries ago, and they got suppressed for one or two hundred years because it was disturbing. It’s like the grotto, the dirty. Because it was too systemic and complicated; there was so much more than there was supposed to be.

AK:  I want to second what Porochista was saying about learning about your body from sources that you should have been learning about these things, like in school or in a more professional way. I learned that the vagina can tear during childbirth from a set of poems by a Japanese poet. Then I immediately was like, “Let me look this up on the internet. Let me read more about it.” This should have been basic knowledge. It’s a bad surprise to spring on someone. [ Laughs ] But one of my personal answers as to why writing about sex is so limited right now is that I feel like we’re taking as our model a lot of film images, or images of sex, and those images are flattened in some way. They don’t have viscera; there is no mass to those bodies. I think that good sex writing would be writing that mass back in, and writing in all the parts of the body that have been sort of excluded from the sex act in descriptions. The digestive tract, the skin, the imperfections in the skin, what they mean, how it feels. I think what gives sex so much gravity is that you’re negotiating your body with another person. It’s not that you’re one, and that’s so wonderful, it’s that you’re actually doing this with another person and they don’t always do what you want them to do. And there’s friction, and it fails sometimes, and then it starts working later, or it fails for moments. That’s what’s bad for me.

EM:  I just want to add that what was dirty about you reading Fifty Shades of Grey , Ruth, is that you were the wrong body. I think if you take the text and put it over the right body, then it becomes another type of writing, another type of porn, another kind of permission to hear it. It’s almost like the text doesn’t matter.

AM:  I wrote a whole novel about a 16-year-old girl who really wants to have good sex, and women I knew were like, “Oh, man, hot.” I went through so much of that when I was a teenage girl myself, and men sometimes were like, “Teenage girls don’t want that. Teenage girls don’t think that way.” I mean progressive, good guys, were like, “Really?” I think sometimes writing gets called bad writing, untrue writing because it’s not heteronormative, it’s not the male gaze: it’s queer sex, it’s disabled sex, it’s not Philip Roth. Thank god for that.

PK:  A lot of what we’re talking about here, I think, is, from the perspective of this moment, and a lot of that is being dominated by white women too. So there are a lot of cultural factors at play, where I sometimes want to be like, “Okay, rad white feminists. This a great moment for you, and I’m with you mostly.” I’m sorry to even go here in a way because I know there are other people of color here—thank god, for once. But it’s also like, this conversation, when it just goes to white women, it becomes dangerous for a lot of the world. I’m watching people I really like on social media going off about the burkini, right? And it’s so hideous. Eileen, you have a great twitter essay about this, and you were literally the only white person I saw talk about the burkini in a sophisticated way. That to me is a major issue about women and the body right now, that we’re telling women half the time that they’re not wearing enough clothes, or they’re wanting to be covered up and then we tell them, no, you have to take it off—which, like Eileen was saying, it’s violence. So I always want these conversations to include other cultures as well because it’s different.

MF:  Me too, and this actually leads me to my next question about that. I want to talk about bodies that ignorant people try to silence. I’m thinking of many different categories of women: transgender people, disabled women, aging women, women of color, women who have been raped or sexually assaulted or abused, women of all body sizes, women with eating disorders, women who have strong opinions, women who are too scared to share their opinions, women who run for the presidency of the United States, mothers, child-free or childless women. How can we amplify all of the bodies this society tries to make invisible?

AM: Well, we can write them. Is it a trick question? We can write them, right? We can write them. We can read them. That’s the other thing; we can’t just write them. We have to buy and support independent booksellers, and the fiction and nonfiction that we want to read. It’s great to say we want literary fiction, but we have to go to our independent bookseller to buy those books. So we can write them, we can buy them, we can read them, and we can promote them. I think that’s how we amplify them. And we call out; we say, I don’t care that anyone loves this book by so and so, I think that the sex is heteronormative and white and not all that. I think we should do that as critics sometimes.

EM:  I’m having a hard time summing up what I’m trying to say. But I feel like part of the problem with—I don’t mean the question exactly—but when we talk about all these different bodies, the problem is the stillness of the question, or the stillness of the subject of identity, as if this is about a transgender person, and this is about an Asian person. We’re always kind of writing about books or thinking about books or text as if subject matter is this static frontal thing that’s squared in the center. I think the problem with the way so many bodies are written about is that they’re always not in passing. They’re being dissected and held still. Is this the real world in which people come onstage and offstage? I mean like, why isn’t there a minor despicable transgender character—just because that person exists rather—than those questions of is this a correct novel about a transgender person by a correct transgender author, you know what I mean? I think that we just live in this much more moving way which isn’t reflected in our text at all. I’m only starting to scrape the surface of it, but it’s framing; it’s like our conceptual frames are fucked up. That goes directly into the writing and the books are sold that way, are written about that way. And then the inadequacies of the writer are shown up in a particular way rather than the fact that the whole world is not true.

MF:  I think that’s so right, and I think we’re putting people into boxes too much, which is basically what you’re saying. We’re trying to say, this is the box they go in, and that’s bullshit.

EM:  The subject matter is a fiction.

AM:  For three and a half years I’ve had a partner who is a complete paraplegic, and I cannot tell you how writers—how editors, rather—wanted me to write about the complications of our sex life. And I was like, “Well, really there aren’t any.” And editors were like “No, no, no. We want to pay you a lot of money. We don’t want to pay you for these other things. We want to pay you a lot of money to write about this because we want to hear this story, because we thought here’s this frame, here’s this story of the disabled sex . . . ”

EM:  That’s exactly the other disabled sex story I know of from another writer who was telling me that she had written this book all about her incredible sex life, and they were like, “This is not possible.”

AM:  They wanted me to write that. That’s what they wanted me to write.

EM:  Hers was “too much.” It gets back to the clothes issue. It’s sort of like policing sex. It’s always this “too much.” It’s the wrong person having sex.

AM:  And the grappling. They wanted to do all this grappling. I told them, “Dude, that was 20 minutes over beer. We haven’t talked about it since.” What you’re saying, though, about the wrong person: it’s like we want women to be virginal and not have these desires, teenage girls don’t do this, and then all of a sudden we expect them to be these sex maidens when they’re 30. I don’t know how we expect them to get there. But we’ve sort of have been writing: teenage girls do this, women in their early 20s do this, and then in their 30s they do this, and then at 40 they stop having sex. [ Laughs ]

PK:  I think this stuff comes into a fever pitch, though, at times. I’m looking at this from a slightly different angle. It happens when we’re in times of extreme misogyny, or homophobia, or transphobia, or racism. Writing becomes this model minority trap where before I can write about, say, a Muslim woman who’s wearing a veil, she’s got to be presented as—I’m not saying she has to be—but my instinct would be, in this climate that we’re in today, to make that person a really good person instead of a bad person. Every fucking day I feel like I’m assaulted by this other message. It becomes very challenging to write completely freely when you’re in this environment that we’re in today. This election has just been, like: everything’s out there. It’s not like any of this got created by the election, but it’s really laid it bare, and it’s worse than I thought it was. It’s kind of hard to think of how to create within that.

MF:  Yeah, absolutely. Alexandra, you talked about the strangeness of the body, of writing about all of the body when you’re writing about sex. You said in an interview for Electric Lit, “Eating is something we do almost without thinking about it, but within that act is the crushing-up of another thing’s life structures with your own teeth, the pre-digestion inside the mouth, the genuine digestion in the stomach, the continual death on a large scale of bacteria living within us.” Aren’t you guys hungry right now? [ Laughs ] “We need it in order to get nutrients from food-material. It’s violent and amazing, and looking microscopically at this quotidian activity shows us something about how messy our lives are, whether we perceive it or not.” I feel like a lot of writers shy away from writing about bodily functions. Bodies are strangers, you remind us. And I wonder whether writing about this strangeness has made you feel it more acutely. Is that acknowledgement of our body’s strangeness liberating in itself, since recognizing it forces us to maybe suspend our ideals of cleanliness, perfection, or a narrow definition of health?

AK:  That’s a lot of questions. [ Laughs ] I came to writing about the body when I already had a writing practice going on, but I realized that I was treating my body like an impediment to writing. I was trying to sort of tamp it down when I got hungry, or when I got tried, or when I ate, or needed sleep. I was moving further away from my body and also being very unhealthy. And so part of what I wanted to do was take my body out of this obscure zone, or out of this sort of transparency zone where it seemed ignored or like someone had sent out an alarm. But then I don’t think that writing about my body at all was what brought me closer to it because I think there’s one way of focusing on the body that makes it almost dysmorphic to me. When you search up pathologies it becomes a constant source of pathology, and you can’t accept the perception of the fairly normal process in your body for a fairly normal process. Not every signal is an alarm, right? I started thinking about auscultation, an obsolete medical practice of listening to the body to try to assess what’s wrong with it, and working sort of on spending time—I don’t want to call it meditation because I’m not a professional—but listening to my body, and trying to pay more attention to it, and appreciate the signals it sends for what they are, I guess.

For me, the way back into my body was more thinking about these unseen processes, processes that I have to believe are going on but I can’t see traces of. And also thinking how they connect me to the world because the number one thing about my body, for me, is that it is my interface with the world. Without it there’s nothing for my mind to do. Although sometimes when your mind is really active you can almost believe it will go on by itself. But it doesn’t. It relies on the outside world. I feel like thinking about these processes, thinking about the bacteria, thinking about myself as an ecosystem actually makes me feel much more alive and much more in touch with what’s out there.

RO:  I think that really is a definition of meditation. It’s being a body. I mean, you’re sitting, you’re being a body, you’re paying attention to the signals. It is exactly that. It’s becoming aware of the body as an interface with the world, that there’s this interdependency that’s happening. It’s interesting because I think that when I’m teaching writing I always have my students sit first. They sit in silence first, and we do a body scan and just sort of settle and spend five minutes just being bodies, and then move from there into writing. It seems to me that literature works because we are all bodies, because we have bodies with which we respond to the world. Our readers do too. So when that experience is translated and evoked on the page, readers respond to it precisely because they do have bodies. If readers did not have bodies, we would not have literature. So the tie there between body and words is a really important one.

AK:  I used to work in cognitive science. We were testing body cognition in the language labs, so what we were exploring was this effect that when you hear the word hammer, you can actually see activation in the motor center; you can see a change in the muscles that use the hammer. It’s this sort of knowledge of the world that would be really hard to represent logically, or as a proposition, or to define. Like what is a hammer? It is an object. How do you use it? You can write pages on that. But words connect to the body in this really deep way and immediately.

MF:  I want to talk about gender and vulnerability. Eileen, you said in an interview with Slutever that when a man writes about his own experiences, he’s seen as vulnerable, but when a woman does it, she is criticized. And the word confessional is often used in a condescending tone to talk about women’s writing. So how do we get around that? How do we use our bodies on the page to fight that notion?

EM:  I think it’s more that it’s the same old thing. I think there are ideas of how women are and how men are. When men do certain things they’re supposedly being incredibly different and fresh. Like if a man writes in a personal way, or writes in an abject way, or writes about what a loser he is, or writes about how vulnerable . . . I mean it’s such a rage in the new kind of loser-guy film. It’s like, “Oh my god he’s so funny. He’s naked and he’s dancing. His girlfriend comes in and breaks up with him. That’s amazing.” But what female would be framed that way? That’s just what some sad, slutty girl would be doing and just getting dumped because girls always get dumped. So It’s sort of like we go through these ages of . . . I remember the first time I read in some magazine that different eras had a certain nose; all movie stars were supposed to have the 1930s nose and so on. I think that just in literature—in the 80s you were supposed to be a kind of postfeminist; every female narrator or even writer was the utter top. We really wanted the top female writer because there was no position, no area for masochism. I just feel I don’t identify as a body, but I definitely identify as a masochist, and masochistic storytelling being not so much, you know, constructing a story out of what’s there and dominating the material so much as not having an agenda before I go into it and start and what I find and then rearranging it accordingly. I know that as a female, I’m supposed to write this story and writing the story that I have instead is like gender action in a way.

MF:  I interviewed the incredible writer, who I think a lot of us on this panel really admire, Lidia Yuknavitch who writes about the body all the time and in fact has a class she teaches called Corporeal Writing. She said in the interview, “To my knowledge, no one’s corporeal experience is limited to the novelistic plot points I see supersaturating the market. We are more contradictory than that sexually. Our sexuality is far in excess of those puny stories. Our sexualities deserve better representation than traditional narrative has allowed. But I’m not doing anything new . Walt Whitman. Or Sappho. Or Duras. Or Acker. I mean, Jesus. Let the body go. Let it rise inside language and shatter the story.” How can you let the body go like Lidia suggests?

EM:  By not dying. [ Laughs ]

RO:  By not dying? I would say by dying. [ Laughs ]

AM:  I mean one thing I heard—and, Michele, you probably heard this too, I think you heard this that night when we did “Beyond Lolita”—one thing I heard from all the women who did the panel who write fiction is that there’s always this thing where people think you’re writing about yourself. I mean, I’ll tell you it’s a real thing. I can’t tell you how many men this year have said to me, “So, I read about Daisy in that story.” And it’s like, “Really?” They assume that it’s you and that’s what you want to do in bed. I’m going to write what’s true to the character. I’m going to write the character I want to write. I’m going to give the character the sex I want to give the character and not worry about that. But I heard from all of the women fiction writers, “Oh, where are all the people going to fit?” I heard from none of the men who were writing fiction but from all of the women fiction writers like Cheryl said when she wrote Torch, “I thought, oh, I want to have kids. What are the kids’ teachers going to think about these sex scenes I wrote?”

EM:  I sort of disagree in a way. I feel like everything you write is you. I just think it’s my choices. It’s not like, this is an illustration of the philosophy of Eileen, or my literal existence, but it’s my pornography. It’s the color I want to be with for chapters and chapters, it’s the period of history. The thing that’s weird, I think is, when somebody is overly excited and appropriative about your choice. I mean, every time a man does something to me that I feel like that’s fucked up. It’s like I’m passing through a hallway and somebody just touches my hip a little bit, because isn’t that appropriate? To make a little room around a gal? Like what the fuck! Don’t be an asshole. I think around that same remark . . . it sort of presupposes that you’re sexually available to this person, and that these are appropriate gestures—like you’re there in their field of vision, and this may be done.

AM:  Absolutely and, you know, there’s Judy Bloom. We don’t always think about Judy Bloom, but Judy Bloom talks about this really eloquently because she wrote Wifey,  where she has all this really hot sex going on, in the 70s, at the same time she was publishing Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and all that. She talks about giving your characters that stuff and not letting people appropriate you. Also, if you haven’t read Wifey yet, I suggest you all go do read it. That’s some good sex writing

RO:  I was just thinking of Virginia Woolf’s idea about killing the angel in the house. It was a lecture, actually, that she gave, but there’s this idea that in order to let the body go that the necessary step is to kill the angel in the house. And there are many ways of doing that, I think. But personally, it was very much about letting my father’s surname go. Ozeki is a pen name. I only started using it when my first novel was about to be published. It was fascinating. My father was dying at the time, and he’d been raised as a Christian fundamentalist. He had family who was still alive, and he was very proud of the fact that I was publishing a book. He knew that I always wanted to. But I could tell that there was something really disturbing him about it. And finally I just said, “I mean, yeah, there’s sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll in the book. Is this going to bother you that I’m publishing it under your name?” And he burst into tears and said, yes, he was afraid that his sister would find it because she was still a fundamentalist Christian, and that she would be ashamed. So it was like ,  ugh.  It was a blow. But I decided at that point to publish under a pseudonym, and it was the most amazing thing because I did the edit of that book knowing that I was going to be publishing under Ozeki. It was literally a feeling of letting the body go. All the crampedness, the restriction, it just disappeared. So I was able to edit it with the kind of freedom that I had never had in my writing before. It was really wonderful. The problem is now, of course, Ozeki is my name. So now I need another pseudonym if I’m going to start publishing Fifty Shades of Grey.

PK:  I think that’s really interesting because I think personally, as creators, it’s really important for us to let go. The thing of being a writer is you’re also a reader; you’re a consumer of art as well. What I like about this period, what I like about my students or the people that I’m around, is that they’re thinking more about the body, and how to approach different bodies, and how they should address bodies. So maybe that’s like what these politicians talk about as being politically correct. I see so much disdain around the word “consent,” a concept I think is really radical and really helpful and has saved lives. I think that I don’t really want to let go because I don’t think were there yet societally. We haven’t faced certain bodies. We haven’t thought of certain possibilities. How is it that we’re just now having discussions around trans people? How is it that a whole group has been invisible for so long? For the first time in my life, just in the last two years, we’re talking about what pronoun we want to use. I hear that being made fun of on late night TV or something, and it’s like, what’s so funny? Trans people were committing suicide. It’s too much work for you to use the right gender pronoun? It’s just really shocking to me, so I actually think that one of the right things about the internet—which has been in my head a lot in this panel—is that it does create a safe space for us to sit back and think a little bit, get information, and be exposed to different people without just projecting our selfhood onto different types of people. I think that thinking and moving slowly and holding on are also important.

MF:  I like that. Is the body related to empathy? The root of the word path, which means feeling or disease, would lead us to believe so. Empathy is such a buzz word these days, but what does it have to do with writing about bodies?

RF:  I think literature works because we have the ability to empathize. We have the ability to imagine, to inhabit other bodies, and so a writer who is doing her work well is creating an empathetic site, a site of empathy where you can lead your way into it somehow. You can write your way into it. You can read your way into it.

EM:  I think reading is empathetic. My decision about whether to keep reading a book or not is utterly an empathetic thing. I don’t just mean I feel for these characters, but it’s a question of the pace and the rhythm: Can I take this into my body and not resist? If I have to read that paragraph over and over again, am I enjoying this process? And then of course there is the fact of the things literally in this book. Are these things I want to have in my head and be in the room that I’m sitting in? I think empathetic is a word I’m really excited by.

AK:  I think that the body empathizes first. I think when you see someone, you can’t help but empathize with them. That’s part of why people react so strongly against people they don’t want to empathize with. They feel the feeling, and they reject it. I think it’s not that they see that person and see they have nothing in common with them; I think they don’t like being made to feel in common with them. The dumb example is if someone is biting their fingernails in the subway or something, it’s not that the sound annoys you or pushes you away, it’s that you’re thinking “I wouldn’t do that.” You’re imposing yourself on them. You’re pushing them away.

AM:  I think that’s also true with the confessional thing. I think that a lot of what we hear about confessional writing, and a lot of the reason that standard is considered to be different is because women have a lot of experiences commonly that a lot of men don’t have. Dramatically more women are sexually assaulted than men, so it’s like this whole other thing from what men are experiencing. It becomes this othered thing because of how it’s defined by men in a patriarchal culture. I think that the whole failure of empathy is the failure to reject the patriarchy. I think that when we don’t do that we fail to have empathy in what we’re approaching as both writers and readers, not to steal your line.

EM:  Confessional is such a weird word, as is the rise of it. It didn’t occur to me to look at who coined it when and in what fucking review and for what purpose. Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath in poetry. Or if you think about en plein air painting, it was a big weird thing when people suddenly decided not to write about the gods, or to sit out in the world and paint and use real things, use more peasant subject matter, and so on. It’s sort of like in poetry when people suddenly used life like yours. Whether you’re Robert Lowell or Sylvia Plath or whoever is doing it, it’s sort of disturbing the order of poetry and allowing the wrong thing in. Suddenly it’s almost like photography. I think with confessional . . . it’s so funny to think of such a private term erected, very phallically, to negate a whole practice that is actually the absolute opposite. It’s all about allowing. You make it be about denying.

PK: When I think back to confessional breakthroughs, I was just telling my students this, the two things that for me were confessional breakthroughs in my life were, one, telling a room full of strangers that I’d been sexually assaulted. That was a big one. I think a lot of people share that. The other one was telling people that I had a mustache growing up. That was somehow harder than talking about being raped. I just remember the first time I decided to blurt it, I think it was when my first novel came out, I just sort of said it, and I looked everybody in the eye in the audience like, “Okay, what do you want to say? Look at me now.” I didn’t even know what I was doing. I was trying to be like, “But I look good, right?” I don’t even know what I was trying to say. I was just like, “Why don’t we talk about the fact that some women have mustaches. It’s totally normal. Who cares?” [ Laughs ] But it’s sad to me that I went home feeling like I got a trophy for that because it was this confessional breakthrough for me. It felt like I released something, that I could go on. But it feels like we have these things which we’re not allowed to say.

EM:  I remember a million years ago with a poem I suddenly just put in, “I’m not a bad looking woman, I suppose,” and it was so fucking radical to say that because I knew in that moment I would be reading out loud, that people were looking at me. They would be thinking about what I was thinking about myself, and how I look, and I am a little vain. I mean, I was like 30, and I just thought, I’m fucking saying that I think I’m kind of hot . And then of course it was wrong on so many levels, even for me personally, who I thought of myself as. But that is art and poetry: just make the wrong move and feel all the light kind of shift.

RO:  And you’re still using the double negative. “I’m not a bad looking woman.”

MF:  I want to ask a question about body and trauma, and I’m going to ask the question by quoting the wonderful Claudia Rankine from Citizen . “How to care for the injured body, the kind of body that can’t hold the content it is living? And where is the safest place when that place must be someplace other than in the body?”

EM:  That’s a complicated one.

PK:  That’s hard to disassociate from the context of Citizen , especially given even just this week’s news, that you can have a black man just reading a book or leaving a music appreciation class and get shot. To me, it’s almost impossible to divorce that quote specifically from race. Of course you can apply it to different types of identity. But then I think, that’s the dilemma of a lot of what we’re talking about in this panel, too, because the problem is that we’re so visual as people, right? I think that’s our dominant sense. I take that for granted because I learned everything from hearing mostly, and I’m not that visual. But we are as a culture, and so with that comes all sorts of wrongseeing and then hopefully not wrongdoing, but it’s sort of the basis of all sorts of sickening prejudices.

EM:  I think you have to disable the text in some way to deal with difference and disability. I always think of Jonathan Franzen. I read The Corrections by accident. I lost something at the airport, and I kept going back to the lost and found, and they finally just let me all the way in the back room to the big gray chest and said, “Well, take whatever you want. There are a lot of notebooks and books here.” I saw The Corrections , and I thought, “Why not?” I thought it wasn’t bad. It was a good read, but what was really weird is when you got to the part where the father was having hallucinations, he couldn’t write that. I thought that’s so weird he can’t . . . he’s such a straight dude that he can’t imagine an altered state. I thought, any poet could write this scene. Anybody could do seeing shit, hallucinating. He couldn’t do that. I thought there was so much about ability of this. I don’t mean to take him out. He’s not a bad guy. But just as an example of something that was an alteration that couldn’t be written and that was somebody else’s cup of tea.

AM:  I think the way you care for the traumatized body and the traumatized experience of so many of us is to tell it truthfully. I know that sounds obvious but truthfully, with a capital T. I think you don’t call it violence. You spell out what it is step by step. I have this piece called “The Church of Dead Girls” where I just walk through what happened to a girl who was killed. I got the transcript from her mother of the police report of what had happened to her body; what had happened to her before she was raped and then murdered. I think if we stop and think, this is what happens, this is what trauma looks like, and we talk about trauma in real ways . . . I’m not saying that people should write their trauma if they’re not comfortable writing their trauma or if it’s going to be re-traumatizing for them. I’m not saying that. But I think the more we look at trauma, the more we spell it out in a truthful way, both what it is and the repercussions of it, I think that’s how we capture this society and also force it in and care for ourselves.

RO:  I think the question also relates back to the question about empathy. We’re blessed with these imaginations and empathy is not something passive. It’s active. It’s something that we can do both as writers and as readers. But especially as writers. We have the duty to go beyond and unpack the convenient phrases.

Feature photo by Sean Fitzroy.

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Understanding Body Language and Facial Expressions

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

body writing

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Body language refers to the nonverbal signals that we use to communicate. These nonverbal signals make up a huge part of daily communication. In fact, body language may account for between 60% to 65% of all communication.

Examples of body language include facial expressions, eye gaze, gestures, posture, and body movements. In many cases, the things we  don't  say can convey volumes of information.

So, why is body language important? Body language can help us understand others and ourselves. It provides us with information about how people may be feeling in a given situation. We can also use body language to express emotions or intentions.

Facial expressions, gestures, and eye gaze are often identified as the three major types of body language, but other aspects such as posture and personal distance can also be used to convey information. Understanding body language is important, but it is also essential to pay attention to other cues such as context. In many cases, you should look at signals as a group rather than focus on a single action.

This article discusses the roles played by body language in communication, as well as body language examples and the meaning behind them—so you know what to look for when you're trying to interpret nonverbal actions.

Click Play to Learn How To Read Body Language

This video has been medically reviewed by David Susman, PhD .

Facial Expressions

Think for a moment about how much a person is able to convey with just a facial expression. A smile can indicate approval or happiness . A frown can signal disapproval or unhappiness.

In some cases, our facial expressions may reveal our true feelings about a particular situation. While you say that you are feeling fine, the look on your face may tell people otherwise.

Just a few examples of  emotions  that can be expressed via facial expressions include:

The expression on a person's face can even help determine if we trust or believe what the individual is saying.

There are many interesting findings about body language in psychology research. One study found that the most trustworthy facial expression involved a slight raise of the eyebrows and a slight smile. This expression, the researchers suggested, conveys both friendliness and confidence .

Facial expressions are also among the most universal forms of body language. The expressions used to convey fear, anger, sadness, and happiness are similar throughout the world.

Researcher Paul Ekman has found support for the universality of a variety of facial expressions tied to particular emotions including joy, anger, fear, surprise, and sadness.

Research even suggests that we make judgments about people's intelligence based upon their faces and expressions.

One study found that individuals who had narrower faces and more prominent noses were more likely to be perceived as intelligent. People with smiling, joyful expression were also judged as being more intelligent than those with angry expressions.

The eyes are frequently referred to as the "windows to the soul" since they are capable of revealing a great deal about what a person is feeling or thinking.

As you engage in conversation with another person, taking note of eye movements is a natural and important part of the communication process.

Some common things you may notice include whether people are making direct eye contact or averting their gaze, how much they are blinking, or if their pupils are dilated.

The best way to read someone's body language is to pay attention. Look out for any of the following eye signals.

When a person looks directly into your eyes while having a conversation, it indicates that they are interested and paying attention . However, prolonged eye contact can feel threatening.

On the other hand, breaking eye contact and frequently looking away might indicate that the person is distracted, uncomfortable, or trying to conceal his or her real feelings.

Blinking is natural, but you should also pay attention to whether a person is blinking too much or too little.

People often blink more rapidly when they are feeling distressed or uncomfortable. Infrequent blinking may indicate that a person is intentionally trying to control his or her eye movements.  

For example, a poker player might blink less frequently because he is purposely trying to appear unexcited about the hand he was dealt.

Pupil size can be a very subtle nonverbal communication signal. While light levels in the environment control pupil dilation, sometimes emotions can also cause small changes in pupil size.

For example, you may have heard the phrase "bedroom eyes" used to describe the look someone gives when they are attracted to another person. Highly dilated eyes, for example, can indicate that a person is interested or even aroused.   

Mouth expressions and movements can also be essential in reading body language. For example, chewing on the bottom lip may indicate that the individual is experiencing feelings of worry, fear, or insecurity.

Covering the mouth may be an effort to be polite if the person is yawning or coughing, but it may also be an attempt to cover up a frown of disapproval.

Smiling is perhaps one of the greatest body language signals, but smiles can also be interpreted in many ways.

A smile may be genuine, or it may be used to express false happiness, sarcasm, or even cynicism.

When evaluating body language, pay attention to the following mouth and lip signals:

Gestures can be some of the most direct and obvious body language signals. Waving, pointing, and using the fingers to indicate numerical amounts are all very common and easy to understand gestures.

Some gestures may be cultural , however, so giving a thumbs-up or a peace sign in another country might have a completely different meaning than it does in the United States.

The following examples are just a few common gestures and their possible meanings:

The Arms and Legs

The arms and legs can also be useful in conveying nonverbal information. Crossing the arms can indicate defensiveness. Crossing legs away from another person may indicate dislike or discomfort with that individual.

Other subtle signals such as expanding the arms widely may be an attempt to seem larger or more commanding, while keeping the arms close to the body may be an effort to minimize oneself or withdraw from attention.

When you are evaluating body language, pay attention to some of the following signals that the arms and legs may convey:

How we hold our bodies can also serve as an important part of body language.

The term posture refers to how we hold our bodies as well as the overall physical form of an individual.

Posture can convey a wealth of information about how a person is feeling as well as hints about personality characteristics, such as whether a person is confident, open, or submissive.

Sitting up straight, for example, may indicate that a person is focused and paying attention to what's going on. Sitting with the body hunched forward, on the other hand, can imply that the person is bored or indifferent.

When you are trying to read body language, try to notice some of the signals that a person's posture can send.

Personal Space

Have you ever heard someone refer to their need for personal space? Have you ever started to feel uncomfortable when someone stands just a little too close to you?

The term proxemics , coined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, refers to the distance between people as they interact. Just as body movements and facial expressions can communicate a great deal of nonverbal information, so can the physical space between individuals.

Hall  described four levels  of social distance that occur in different situations.

Intimate Distance: 6 to 18 inches 

This level of physical distance often indicates a closer relationship or greater comfort between individuals. It usually occurs during intimate contact such as hugging, whispering, or touching.

Personal Distance: 1.5 to 4 feet

Physical distance at this level usually occurs between people who are family members or close friends. The closer the people can comfortably stand while interacting can be an indicator of the level of intimacy in their relationship.

Social Distance: 4 to 12 feet.

This level of physical distance is often used with individuals who are acquaintances.

With someone you know fairly well, such as a co-worker you see several times a week, you might feel more comfortable interacting at a closer distance.

In cases where you do not know the other person well, such as a postal delivery driver you only see once a month, a distance of 10 to 12 feet may feel more comfortable.

Public Distance: 12 to 25 feet

Physical distance at this level is often used in public speaking situations. Talking in front of a class full of students or giving a presentation at work are good examples of such situations.

It is also important to note that the level of personal distance that individuals need to feel comfortable can vary from culture to culture.

One oft-cited example is the difference between people from Latin cultures and those from North America. People from Latin countries tend to feel more comfortable standing closer to one another as they interact, while those from North America need more personal distance.

Roles of Nonverbal Communication

Body language plays many roles in social interactions. It can help facilitate the following:

Remember, though, that your assumptions about what someone else's body language means may not always be accurate.

What does body language tell you about a person?

Body language can tell you when someone feels anxious, angry, excited, or any emotion. It may also suggest personality traits (i.e., whether someone is shy or outgoing). But, body language can be misleading. It is subject to a person's mood, energy level, and circumstances.

While in some cases, a lack of eye contact indicates untrustworthiness, for instance, it doesn't mean you automatically can't trust someone who isn't looking at you in the eyes. It could be they are distracted and thinking about something else. Or, again, it could be a cultural difference at play.

How to Improve Your Nonverbal Communication

The first step in improving your nonverbal communication is to pay attention. Try to see if you can pick up on other people's physical cues as well as your own.

Maybe when someone is telling you a story, you tend to look at the floor. In order to show them you're paying attention, you might try making eye contact instead, and even showing a slight smile, to show you're open and engaged.

What is good body language?

Good body language, also known as positive body language, should convey interest and enthusiasm. Some ways to do this include maintaining an upright and open posture, keeping good eye contact, smiling, and nodding while listening.

Using body language with intention is all about finding balance. For instance, when shaking someone's hand before a job interview, holding it somewhat firmly can signal professionalism. But, gripping it too aggressively might cause the other person pain or discomfort. Be sure to consider how other people might feel.

In addition, continue to develop emotional intelligence . The more in touch you are with how you feel, the easier it often is to sense how others are receiving you. You'll be able to tell when someone is open and receptive, or, on the other hand, if they are closed-off and need some space.

If we want to feel a certain way, we can use our body language to our advantage. For example, research found that people who maintained an upright seated posture while dealing with stress had higher levels of self-esteem and more positive moods compared to people who had slumped posture.

Of course, it's verbal and nonverbal communication—as well as the context of a situation—that often paints a full picture.

There isn't always a one-size-fits-all solution for what nonverbal cues are appropriate. However, by staying present and being respectful, you'll be well on your way to understanding how to use body language effectively.

A Word From Verywell

Understanding body language can go a long way toward helping you better communicate with others and interpreting what others might be trying to convey. While it may be tempting to pick apart signals one by one, it's important to look at these nonverbal signals in relation to verbal communication, other nonverbal signals, and the situation.

You can also learn more about how to improve your nonverbal communication to become better at letting people know what you are feeling—without even saying a word.

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Tipper CM, Signorini G, Grafton ST. Body language in the brain: constructing meaning from expressive movement . Front Hum Neurosci . 2015;9:450. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2015.00450

Todorov A, Baron SG, Oosterhof NN. Evaluating face trustworthiness: a model based approach. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2008;3(2):119-27. doi:10.1093/scan/nsn009

Ekman P. Darwin's contributions to our understanding of emotional expressions. Philos Trans R Soc Lond, B, Biol Sci. 2009;364(1535):3449-51. doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0189

Kleisner K, Chvátalová V, Flegr J. Perceived intelligence is associated with measured intelligence in men but not women. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(3):e81237. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081237

D'agostino TA, Bylund CL. Nonverbal accommodation in health care communication. Health Commun . 2014;29(6):563-73. doi:10.1080/10410236.2013.783773

Marchak FM. Detecting false intent using eye blink measures. Front Psychol. 2013;4:736. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00736

Jiang J, Borowiak K, Tudge L, Otto C, Von kriegstein K. Neural mechanisms of eye contact when listening to another person talking. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017;12(2):319-328. doi:10.1093/scan/nsw127

Roter DL, Frankel RM, Hall JA, Sluyter D. The expression of emotion through nonverbal behavior in medical visits. Mechanisms and outcomes . J Gen Intern Med. 2006;21 Suppl 1:S28-34. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00306.x

Montgomery KJ, Isenberg N, Haxby JV. Communicative hand gestures and object-directed hand movements activated the mirror neuron system. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2007;2(2):114-22. doi:10.1093/scan/nsm004

Vacharkulksemsuk T, Reit E, Khambatta P, Eastwick PW, Finkel EJ, Carney DR. Dominant, open nonverbal displays are attractive at zero-acquaintance . Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2016;113(15):4009-14. doi:10.1073/pnas.1508932113

Hall ET. A system for the notation of proxemic behavior . American Anthropologist. October 1963;65(5):1003-1026. doi:10.1525/aa.1963.65.5.02a00020.

Hughes H, Hockey J, Berry G. Power play: the use of space to control and signify power in the workplace . Culture and Organization. 2019;26(4):298-314. doi:10.1080/14759551.2019.1601722

Chemelo VDS, Né YGS, Frazão DR, et al. Is there association between stress and bruxism? A systematic review and meta-analysis.  Front Neurol . 2020;11:590779. doi:10.3389/fneur.2020.590779

Jarick M, Bencic R.  Eye contact is a two-way street: arousal is elicited by the sending and receiving of eye gaze information.   Front Psychol . 2019;10:1262. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01262

Fred HL. Banning the handshake from healthcare settings is not the solution to poor hand hygiene .  Tex Heart Inst J . 2015;42(6):510-511. doi:10.14503/THIJ-15-5254

Nair S, Sagar M, Sollers J 3rd, Consedine N, Broadbent E. Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial .  Health Psychol . 2015;34(6):632-641. doi:10.1037/hea0000146

Hehman, E, Flake, JK and Freeman, JB. Static and dynamic facial cues differentially affect the consistency of social evaluations .  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin . 2015; 41(8): 1123-34. doi:10.1177/0146167215591495.

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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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How to Write a Body Paragraph for a College Essay

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Paragraphing is an essential key to successful academic writing. A writer's organizing decisions control the reader's (i.e., your professor's) attention by raising or decreasing engagement with the subject. Writing an effective paragraph includes determining what goes into each paragraph and how your paragraphs and ideas relate to one another.

The first paragraph in any academic essay is the introduction , and the last is the conclusion, both of which are critical to crafting a compelling essay. But what is a body paragraph? The body paragraphs — all the paragraphs that come between the intro and conclusion — comprise the bulk of the essay and together form the student's primary argument.

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In this article, we look at the function of a body paragraph and provide guidance on how to write a good body paragraph for any college essay.

What Is the Purpose of a Body Paragraph?

Body paragraphs play an indispensable role in proving the essay's thesis , which is presented in the introduction. As a sequence, body paragraphs provide a path from the introduction — which forecasts the structure of the essay's content — to the conclusion, which summarizes the arguments and looks at how final insights may apply in different contexts. Each body paragraph must therefore relate logically to the one immediately before and after it.

If you can eliminate a paragraph without losing crucial information that supports your thesis claim, then that paragraph is a divergence from this path and should be edited so that it fits with the rest of your essay and contains necessary evidence, context, and/or details.

Each body paragraph must relate logically to the one immediately before and after it, and must also focus on a single topic or idea.

Each paragraph must also focus on a single topic or idea. If the topic is complex or has multiple parts, consider whether each would benefit from its own paragraph.

People tend to absorb information in short increments, and readers usually time mental breaks at paragraph ends. This stop is also where they pause to consider content or write notes. As such, you should avoid lengthy paragraphs.

Finally, most academic style conventions frown upon one-sentence paragraphs. Similar to how body paragraphs can be too long and messy, one-sentence paragraphs can feel far too short and underdeveloped. Following the six steps below will allow you to avoid this style trap.

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6 Steps for Writing an Effective Body Paragraph

There are six main steps to crafting a compelling body paragraph. Some steps are essential in every paragraph and must appear in a fixed location, e.g., as the first sentence. Writers have more flexibility with other steps, which can be delayed or reordered (more on this later).

Step 1: Write a Topic Sentence

Consider the first sentence in a body paragraph a mini-thesis statement for that paragraph. The topic sentence should establish the main point of the paragraph and bear some relationship to the essay's overarching thesis statement.

In theory, by reading only the topic sentence of every paragraph, a reader should be able to understand a summary outline of the ideas that prove your paper's thesis. If the topic sentence is too complex, it'll confuse the reader and set you up to write paragraphs that are too long-winded.

Step 2: Unpack the Topic Sentence

Now, it's time to develop the claims in your paragraph's topic sentence by explaining or expanding all the individual parts. In other words, you'll parse out the discussion points your paragraph will address to support its topic sentence.

You may use as many sentences as necessary to achieve this step, but if there are too many components, consider writing a paragraph for each of them, or for a few that fit particularly well together. In this case, you'll likely need to revise your topic sentence. The key here is only one major idea per paragraph.

Step 3: Give Evidence

The next step is to prove your topic sentence's claim by supplying arguments, facts, data, and quotations from reputable sources . The goal is to offer original ideas while referencing primary sources and research, such as books, journal articles, studies, and personal experiences.

Step 4: Analyze the Evidence

Never leave your body paragraph's evidence hanging. As the writer, it's your job to do the linking work, that is, to connect your evidence to the main ideas the paragraph seeks to prove. You can do this by explaining, expanding, interpreting, or commentating on your evidence. You can even debunk the evidence you've presented if you want to give a counterargument.

Step 5: Prove Your Objective

This next step consists of two parts. First, tie up your body paragraph by restating the topic sentence. Be sure to use different language so that your writing is not repetitive. Whereas the first step states what your paragraph will prove, this step states what your paragraph has proven .

Second, every three or four paragraphs, or where it seems most fitting, tie your proven claim back to the paper's thesis statement on page 1. Doing so makes a concrete link between your discussion and the essay's main claim.

Step 6: Provide a Transition

A transition is like a bridge with two ramps: The first ramp takes the reader out of a topic or paragraph, whereas the second deposits them into a new, albeit related, topic. The transition must be smooth, and the connection between the two ideas should be strong and clear.

Purdue University lists some of the most commonly used transition words for body paragraphs.

Body Paragraph Example

Here is an example of a well-structured body paragraph, and the beginning of another body paragraph, from an essay on William Shakespeare's play "Twelfth Night." See whether you can identify the topic sentence and its development, the evidence, the writer's analysis and proof of the objective, and the transition to the next paragraph.

As well as harmony between parent and child, music represents the lasting bond between romantic couples. Shakespeare illustrates this tunefulness in the relationship between Viola and Orsino. Viola's name evokes a musical instrument that fits between violin and cello when it comes to the depth of tone. Orsino always wants to hear sad songs until he meets Viola, whose wit forces him to be less gloomy. The viola's supporting role in an orchestra, and Orsino's need for Viola to break out of his depression, foreshadow the benefits of the forthcoming marriage between the two. The viola is necessary in both lamenting and celebratory music. Shakespeare uses the language of orchestral string music to illustrate how the bonds of good marriages often depend on mediating between things.

The play also references cacophonous music. The unharmonious songs that Sir Toby and Andrew sing illustrate how indulging bad habits is bad for society as a whole. These characters are always drunk, do no work, play mean tricks, and are either broke or squander their money. …

Strategies for Crafting a Compelling Body Paragraph

Break down complex topic sentences.

A topic sentence with too many parts will force you to write a lot of support. But as you already know, readers typically find long paragraphs more difficult to absorb. The solution is to break down complicated topic sentences into two or more smaller ideas, and then devote a separate paragraph for each.

Move the Transition to the Following Paragraph

Though a body paragraph should always begin with a topic sentence and end with proof of your objective — sometimes with a direct connection to the essay's thesis — you don't need to include the transition in that paragraph; instead, you may insert it right before the topic sentence of the next paragraph.

For example, if a body paragraph is already incredibly long, you might want to avoid adding a transition at the end.

Your body paragraphs should be no longer than half to three-quarters of a double-spaced page with 1-inch margins in Times New Roman 12-point font. A little longer is sometimes acceptable, but you should generally avoid writing paragraphs that fill or exceed one page.

Shift Around Some of the Paragraph Steps Above

The steps above are a general guide, but you may change the order of them (to an extent). For instance, if your topic sentence is fairly complicated, you might need to unpack it into several parts, with each needing its own evidence and analysis.

You could also swap steps 3 and 4 by starting with your analysis and then providing evidence. Even better, consider alternating between giving evidence and providing analysis.

The idea here is that using more than one design for your paragraphs usually makes the essay more engaging. Remember that monotony can make a reader quickly lose interest, so feel free to change it up.

Don't Repeat the Same Information Between Paragraphs

If similar evidence or analysis works well for other paragraphs too, you need to help the reader make these connections. You can do this by incorporating signal phrases like "As the following paragraph also indicates" and "As already stated."

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How to write an essay introduction.

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How to Write a Conclusion Paragraph for an Essay

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Body writing     2019, artist statement.

Body Writing is an exploration of personal lineage and female representation through surreal and absurd performative photography. Imaginatively staged scenes are embedded with references to the Limestone Coast of South Australia; a placewhich holds significance to the artists matrilineal histories.

Intrigued by generational inheritance and desire to know of past lives, Brianna spent a month in the Mount Gambier/Boandik region immersing herself in photographs from the family album, archived letters, oral histories, visits to old family homes and sites seen in photographs and analysing cultural texts. Her personal discoveries are interpreted and presented within this series of photographs Body Writing .

Considering photography’s connection to memory and narrative, Brianna questions how photography relates to our personal narrative; what is in a family album, who cares for it and passes it on, and the nature of images and memories to fade  over time. While grasping to know of matrilineal histories and realising photographs offer a somewhat unrealistic sense of knowledge, Brianna translates here xperiences from her time in the Limestone Coast in a fictional sense; where staged and surreal scenes draw on ambiguity and focus on female voices and experiences to challenge dominant forms of narrative and show the complexity of representation.

Body writing is underpinned by queer-feminist theory and desire for agency. Exploring themes of gender in the context of a specific place, Body Writing sees new material curiosities to consider how the artists matrilineal history carries significance to present and always shifting notions of self. Brianna’s visual language sees reflective fabrics containing images, painted bodies in pink, silver and orange, and cut, collaged and sewn shapes of tactile material suspended. The images are soft, light and sensual inform, in content; uncanny and strange. Eroding landscapes, fading images, extreme brightness, patterns from shellfish and shadows are all elements considered in the images, each of which contains its own story; prioritising multiplicity, sensation, ambiguity and emotion.

'Parts Apart Read Together', Linda Marie Walker

“She sits allowing ‘the unconscious mind’ and all the other minds to fill. She allows it. She allows all its, all it’s, all itses and all of it.”(1)

Someone tells her a story about a woman and a snake. Then someone else tells her a story about a woman and a snake. The woman shoots the snake. She thought the woman was strong, but she’s more than ‘strong’, she’s caring and gracious; she’s not the woman she thought she was; she (HerSelf) has crossed an actual-invisible ever-changing bridge.(2)

She sees how she, herSelf, has become who she seems to be; it goes back a long way; her mother, her mother, her mother, her mother; summing-up from an inexhaustible diffusion, from an opening, a tiny crack, a single breath.

In a photocopy of a photograph a baby lays on its side on a pillow on the ground, in the backyard of a house. She has been brought into the light for the photograph; from a distance she looks like a small white wombat, helpless and still.

In another photograph there are two beautiful women in swimsuits from the 1950s. They would be elderly now, or perhaps already gone. Lives are worth knowing, they are histories – intricate, elaborate, and easily lost. Who, or how, are we when we look (out) at the world (from in here) and speak and write and make decisions, judgments, and art.

Brianna’s photographs are surreal, and in the tradition of the women Surrealists and Dadaists; their images are anti-narrative or multi-narrative, disruptive, ambiguous, and contrary. Dorothea Tanning’s paintings, Sophie Tauber-Arp’s costumes and marionettes, Hannah Hoch’s collages, Suzanne Duchamp’s paintings/collages, Claude Cahun’s photographs and writings. Cahun used make-up, masks and costumes in her staged-photographs. She was her subject, along with gender, self-identity and sexuality. In her book Disavowals (or, Cancelled Confessions; originally Aveux non Avenus), a book dedicated to ‘adventures’, a book of essay-poems, she writes:

The invisible adventure.

The lens tracks the eyes, the mouth, the wrinkles skin deep … the expression on the face is fierce, sometimes tragic. And then calm – a knowing calm, worked on, flashy. A professional smile – and voilà!

The hand-held mirror reappears, and the rouge and eye shadow. A beat. Full stop.

New paragraph.

I’ll start again.(3)

There are veils or curtains, and they are painted or dyed or stained, layered, draped, hung, torn, joined; who gets (to be) hidden (and who is ‘it’), what lies behind or beneath or within; the mask is a mask, and then there’s another mask; the neutral is never neutral, it spreads out, eyeless. I step back, stand quiet, and see what’s there; she’s in the landscape; art is crammed with residual situations, responses, and collaborations that remain obscure.

Hannah Hoch’s famous photomontage ‘Cut with the Kitchen Knife, Dada through the last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany’ (1919-20) used fragments of images and texts cut from mass-media. Hoch said of her material: “I use it … like colour, or how the poet uses the word.”(4) Composition entails cutting, gluing, and assembling. Brianna composes using ‘fragments’ from the inner world of her practice rather than from the outer world of media. Unlike Dada’s resistance to intuition and the unconscious, her images pay attention to the unlikely and the uncanny (as they arise in the process), allowing their appearances to play a part, or to play themselves out amongst the conscious acts of technique, desire and aesthetic disposition. The overall image is one of an intense almost-diaphanous disturbance that emanates from remote (myriad, escaping) memories, or confluences of experience/sensation (a baby on a pillow, a room with peeling wallpaper, a cave, a garden, sand-dunes, shell-fish – like Brechtian ruptures of protest, of banners and shouting that jolts you out of the unreal ‘theatre’.) The images are impractical, their agency suspended (or pending); they propose freedom from ‘intellectual’ forms and habits; they have their own objective(s) of speculation, impression and humour (they’ve set-off from the shores of not-yet visible presences; they don’t begin or finish in the frame).

Each photograph is a once-only (exclusive) scene (finely balanced, readily ruined). The intuition that might have triggered it, and the intuition that it might trigger, are both (if actual) momentary. “The effort to generate intuition is ‘arduous’ and cannot last. It occurs not so much through attention as through a leap into the movement of what is new, a leap outside the familiarity that intellect provides, into the unfamiliar, where one must seek out new means of apprehension. This is partly why, even with the effort of attention, intuition always begins with indeterminacy and vagueness and is shadowy in its origin.”(5)

The images are made by ‘hand’, with direction, purpose, planning. They are not from the natural known-world; yet having been produced by living matter and mind are of-nature; the artist affects the world, the world affects the artist: bodies act oddly, the world acts oddly in reply – its past disputed, its memory tested. In dreams we engage in bizarre events, vivid or hazy landscapes, and constellations of people and things; the dream turns from the light, yet holds images from the light – encounters, colours, feelings; we inhabit this crafted, shaped and mobile otherworld as we sleep. Sense must be dreamed too, in the hope that this dreaming (of unheard-of-sense) will resist conclusions and prophecies; the image can then be its own territory of textiles, limbs, paints, objects. It’s impossible to say if the images are after or before an event (are a glimpse, or evidence, of an entire life, for instance), or are, individually, the entire event, in which case, as witnesses, we’ll discuss our scrutiny (our fossicking) with other witnesses. There’s a story of a girl who runs away; she’s caught up with though and taken home. Empathy for the girl is still in the air; and empathy for her death as an old woman; and empathy for her ghost who stirs the surfaces (of skin, of fabric, of earth). There’s no ‘looking’ in these images; the faces are kept away (held back) from our faces; we cannot look at the look of the face(s); we cannot see what we long to see – the eyes of others.  

The separate, severed, isolated limbs appear willful, expressive, and alive to each other, as if they intimately know the between-spaces either side of the translucent screening. Limbs can suddenly swing out in anger or joy, or cross themselves protectively, or drop numbly and heavily in despair or illness (or fingers can tenderly clasp a toe, or hands can rest on legs like spiders, or pass each other through a hole). The mind manoeuves them exactly, to kick a ball, to throw a stone, to dance and bend and fold and lift; into our limbs flow all our energies. In Hannah Hoch’s ‘Russian Dancer’ (1928) an ear, a cap and a monocle are pasted onto a woman’s head; from the chin two legs sprout; the foot of one leg is in a ballet slipper, ‘en-pointe’; the other leg is lifted off the ground, its foot ‘pointed’ in a dark shoe; it has a crinkled, torn, thigh and a flower attached to its knee; the eyes of the large head calmly gaze at the viewer while the legs go about their business; each leg is trying-to-be the perfectly poised feminine ‘part’. 

There are the parts (in the images); the part though is a whole; a whole cloth, a whole foot, a whole knee, a whole arm: an arm is a deep (endless) idea/thing, it has unique dimensions, markings and temperatures, it’s built of various substances; it’s a labyrinth, like a thought; it has an unconscious; and, as with all parts, it, and its body, love to hide in reason, and, in cahoots, invent its/their own myths – as shrouder, censor, hoarder, deceiver … enchanter.

In Dorothea Tanning’s painting ‘Birthday’, a self-portrait, her breasts are bare and she’s looking at something (not me) while opening a door, behind which are infinite opening doors. She wears a ruffled purple shirt and a skirt made of tiny nude bodies, like green tendrils or dactyls(6). (Or maybe they are ‘complexes’, or drives, or instincts: “These complexes are ‘the little people’, who act like dactyls, doing the finger work in the primal clay of the imagination. They are like the gnomes who work at night, the underworld smiths and labyrinth makers, the artisan craftsmen who cannot cease from shaping, or, in Jung’s language, the continual activity of psychic fantasy that makes what we call reality.”(7)) On the floor near her feet, bare too, is a furry winged-creature, a daemon, a companion, also looking at ‘something’. “… I had been struck, one day, by a fascinating array of doors … crowded together, soliciting my attention with their antic planes, light, shadows, imminent openings and shuttings. From there it was an easy leap to a dream of countless door.”(8) Everything is clearly there, in the picture, but everything is hidden. 

Brianna’s images are staged-photographs; the body/bodies might be male or female; perhaps a metamorphosis is underway that requires display, ceremony, memorializing. The subject (the artist, let’s say) is sticking with her self; she’s not offering a version, or versions, but banking on herself to acquire her own intensity, concentration, and in time, home. The herself is the performance that is also, at the same time, quite unlike her-self, quite unlike the habits in-her-bones. Her/self sees (without us) the ‘theatre’ off-stage, that we are kindly shielded from by soft fragile material that is sculpturally formless, and sensual.(9) Makes you want to scream. Because. Doing-Femininity is “… about trips, crossings, trudges, abrupt and gradual awakenings, discoveries of a zone at one time timorous and soon to be forthright …”, and impossible: “This morning in the museum, I was passing in front of the drawings, in the slight alarm of the reading which doesn’t know from where the blow will come, and I was looking, distracted, at these morsels of worry, these stuttered avowals of nothing, nothing clearly delivered. It was then that the blow came from whom I wasn’t expecting it at all. What is this moment called when we suddenly recognize what we have never seen? And which gives us a joy like a wound? This is the woman who did that to me: the Woman Ironing. This Woman Ironing hurts us. Because the drawing catches ‘the secret’ in its (contrary) enmeshed threads. ‘The thing,’ that sharp thing, ‘life’. We thought we were drawing a Woman Ironing. But it’s worse. This Woman Ironing is a tragedy. A needle blow right in the middle of eternity’s chest.”(10)

Impossible then, there.

1. Rachel Blau DuPlessis, The Pink Guitar, Writing as Feminist Practice, Routledge, NY, 1990, 116

2 .Elizabeth Grosz, The Nick of Time, Politics, Evolution and the Untime ly, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2004, 185-190 

3 .Claude Cahun, extract from Disavowals, trans. Susan de Muth; accessed 22.02.19, https: susandemuth.com/translations/disavowals-aveux-non-avenus-by-claude-cahun/

4 .Ruth Hemus, Dada’s Women, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2009, 99

5 .Elizabeth Grosz, ibid., 236 (The word ‘arduous’ comes from Henri Bergson, Creative Mind, 39.)

6 .Dactyls: Greek mythological males connected to the ‘Great Mother’, spirit-men who were blacksmiths or healing magicians.

7 .James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld, Harper & Row, NY, 1979, 119: “Dreams are made by the persons in them, the personified complexes within each of us: these persons come out most freely in the night.”  

8 .Dorothea Tanning, in Birthday, The Lapis Press, 1986, 14 (dorotheatanning.org)

9 .See: the soft materials in Tanning’s The Guest Room (1950-52); and Witnesses (1947), she also talks about ‘woven cloth’ in relation to this image at: dorotheatanning.org; and the thick creepy fabric in her installation Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (1970-73)

10 .Hélène Cixous, ‘Without End, no, State of drawingness, no, rather: The Executioner’s taking off’, trans. Catherine A.F. MacGillivray, in Stigmata, Escaping Texts, Routledge, London, 1998, 25: (The Woman Ironing is the drawing by Pablo Picasso: ‘Etude pour ‘La Repasseuse’, 1904); I was in two minds, as I had firstly used this quotation: “Almost everything is yet to be written by women about femininity: about their sexuality, that is, its infinite and mobile complexity, about their eroticization, sudden turn-ons of a certain minuscule-immense area of their bodies; not about destiny, but about the adventure of such and such a drive, about trips, crossings, trudges, abrupt and gradual awakenings, discoveries of a zone at one time timorous and soon to be forthright. A woman’s body, with its thousand and one thresholds of ardor – once, by smashing yokes and censors, she lets it articulate the profusion of meanings that run through it in every direction – will make the old single-grooved mother tongue reverberate with more than one language … Women must write through their bodies, they must invent the impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes, they must submerge, cut through, get beyond the ultimate reserve-discourse, including the one that laughs at the very idea of pronouncing the word ‘silence’, the one that aiming for the impossible, stops short before the word ‘impossible’ and writes it as ‘the end’.” (Hélène Cixous, ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’, trans. Keith Cohen & Paula Cohen, in The Portable Cixous, ed. Marta Segarra, Columbia University Press, NY, 2010, 38)

Linda Marie Walker (February 2019)

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My Body, Myself

The architect Suchi Reddy said, “We build our lives from our bodies. Then we build the next layer and the next layer—our home, our towns, our cities, our villages, our world.” Do you see your body that way, as the foundation of your life? How is your life built; what’s the progression? Is it body, home, town, city, village, world like Reddy’s or might you experience a different trajectory? Could it begin outwardly, at a distance, say “Mountain, forest, pines, call of flicker, breath”? For me it’s “Mother, body, voice, dream, home, father, oh, New York City of my beginning, forever home.” For a first body poem, write about where your life began, how you experience it in memory and the next steps outward. You could start with the words, “I built my life from…” You might have a line of description for each item like: “I built my life from my mother who sang poetry to me night after weary night when I was nearly nothing but her.” The 20th century American poet May Swenson opens her poem “Questions” with these words, “Body my house/ my horse my hound/” How about you? Do you see your body as a house, a horse, a hound or as something else? Some days mine is a nest and on others it’s a beehive. While at other times, I think of my body as a book, and I’m slowly turning the pages, in no hurry to get to the end of the story. At night in bed, if I can’t sleep, I imagine my body is a small rowboat on a calm New England pond like the one I rowed out into a late long night ago.

In order to get writing, I thought it would be helpful to figure out where in my body my writing came from. I needed to locate the essence of my voice—my self—within, to ground me so that I could both remember and discover what I had to say. Once I located my voice and returned it to it, I rediscovered the ability to write my trustworthy truth. At the beginning of Writing and the Spiritual Life , I write, “[T]he place where my soul resides feels located in and around my heart and a little below, in my solar plexus. When I am aware of that part of myself, attend to it, and act from it, I am at home. There’s a sense that everything I am comes together in that location; all inner roads lead there.” Both as a writing prompt and as a writer’s orientation, write a poem or a fragment of prose about where in your physical body your writer-self dwells. You’ll develop a relationship with your inner voice by doing so.

Patrice Vecchione is the author of the poetry book, My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice , available here . Patrice offers some rather surprising rules for writing, including 25 writing inspirations.

Building Writing Motivation Through the Hard Times

Building Writing Motivation Through the Hard Times

Plotting Your Growth as a Writer

Plotting Your Growth as a Writer

Finding Your Why as a Writer

Finding Your Place as a Writer

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  • How to write the body of an essay | Drafting & redrafting

How to Write the Body of an Essay | Drafting & Redrafting

Published on November 5, 2014 by Shane Bryson . Revised on June 10, 2022 by Shona McCombes.

The body is the longest part of an essay . This is where you lead the reader through your ideas, elaborating arguments and evidence for your thesis . The body is always divided into paragraphs .

You can work through the body in three main stages:

  • Create an  outline of what you want to say and in what order.
  • Write a first draft to get your main ideas down on paper.
  • Write a second draft to clarify your arguments and make sure everything fits together.

This article gives you some practical tips for how to approach each stage.

Table of contents

Start with an outline, write the first draft, write the second draft.

Before you start, make a rough outline that sketches out the main points you want to make and the order you’ll make them in. This can help you remember how each part of the essay should relate to the other parts.

However, remember that  the outline isn’t set in stone – don’t be afraid to change the organization if necessary. Work on an essay’s structure begins before you start writing, but it continues as you write, and goes on even after you’ve finished writing the first draft.

While you’re writing a certain section, if you come up with an idea for something elsewhere in the essay, take a few moments to add to your outline or make notes on your organizational plans.

Your goals in the first draft are to turn your rough ideas into workable arguments, add detail to those arguments, and get a sense of what the final product will actually look like.

Write strong body paragraphs

Start wherever you want

Many writers do not begin writing at the introduction , or even the early body paragraphs. Start writing your essay where it seems most natural for you to do so.

Some writers might prefer to start with the easiest section to write, while others prefer to get the most difficult section out of the way first. Think about what material you need to clarify for yourself, and consider beginning there.

Tackle one idea at a time

Each paragraph should aim to focus on one central idea, giving evidence, explanation, and arguments that relate to that idea.

At the start of each paragraph, write a topic sentence that expresses the main point. Then elaborate and expand on the topic sentence in the rest of the paragraph.

When you’ve said everything you have to say about the idea, move onto a new paragraph.

Keep your argument flexible

You may realize as you write that some of your ideas don’t work as well as you thought they would. Don’t give up on them too easily, but be prepared to change or abandon sections if you realize they don’t make sense.

You’ll probably also come up with new ideas that you’d not yet thought of when writing the outline. Note these ideas down and incorporate them into the essay if there’s a logical place for them.

If you’re stuck on one section, move on to another part of the essay and come back to it later.

Don’t delete content

If you begin to dislike a certain section or even the whole essay, don’t scrap it in fit of rage!

If something really isn’t working, you can paste it into a separate document, but keep what you have, even if you don’t plan on using it. You may find that it contains or inspires new ideas that you can use later.

Note your sources

Students often make work for themselves by forgetting to keep track of sources when writing drafts.

You can save yourself a lot of time later and ensure you avoid plagiarism by noting down the name, year, and page number every time you quote or paraphrase from a source.

You can also use a citation generator to save a list of your sources and copy-and-paste citations when you need them.

Avoid perfectionism

When you’re writing a first draft, it’s important not to get slowed down by small details. Get your ideas down on paper now and perfect them later. If you’re unsatisfied with a word, sentence, or argument, flag it in the draft and revisit it later.

When you finish the first draft, you will know which sections and paragraphs work and which might need to be changed. It doesn’t make sense to spend time polishing something you might later cut out or revise.

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Working on the second draft means assessing what you’ve got and rewriting it when necessary. You’ll likely end up cutting some parts of the essay and adding new ones.

Check your ideas against your thesis

Everything you write should be driven by your thesis . Looking at each piece of information or argumentation, ask yourself:

  • Does the reader need to know this in order to understand or accept my thesis?
  • Does this give evidence for my thesis?
  • Does this explain the reasoning behind my thesis?
  • Does this show something about the consequences or importance of my thesis?

If you can’t answer yes to any of these questions, reconsider whether it’s relevant enough to include.

If your essay has gone in a different direction than you originally planned, you might have to rework your thesis statement to more accurately reflect the argument you’ve made.

Watch out for weak points

Be critical of your arguments, and identify any potential weak points:

  • Unjustified assumptions: Can you be confident that your reader shares or will accept your assumptions, or do they need to be spelled out?
  • Lack of evidence:  Do you make claims without backing them up?
  • Logical inconsistencies:  Do any of your points contradict each other?
  • Uncertainty: Are there points where you’re unsure about your own claims or where you don’t sound confident in what you’re saying?

Fixing these issues might require some more research to clarify your position and give convincing evidence for it.

Check the organization

When you’re happy with all the main parts of your essay, take another look at the overall shape of it. You want to make sure that everything proceeds in a logical order without unnecessary repetition.

Try listing only the topic sentence of each paragraph and reading them in order. Are any of the topic sentences too similar? Each paragraph should discuss something different; if two paragraphs are about the same topic, they must approach it in different ways, and these differences should be made clear in the topic sentences.

Does the order of information make sense? Looking at only topic sentences lets you see at a glance the route your paper takes from start to finish, allowing you to spot organizational errors more easily.

Draw clear connections between your ideas

Finally, you should assess how your ideas fit together both within and between paragraphs. The connections might be clear to you, but you need to make sure they’ll also be clear to your reader.

Within each paragraph, does each sentence follow logically from the one before it? If not, you might need to add new sentences to make the connections clear. Try using transition words to clarify what you want to say.

Between one paragraph and the next, is it clear how your points relate to one another? If you are moving onto an entirely new topic, consider starting the paragraph with a transition sentence that moves from the previous topic and shows how it relates to the new one.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Bryson, S. (2022, June 10). How to Write the Body of an Essay | Drafting & Redrafting. Scribbr. Retrieved May 25, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/body/

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Shane Bryson

Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master's degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.

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Body language master list for writers

Some articles may include amazon affiliate links. all proceeds go to helping us pay for original stories and to support writers of speculative fiction. read more here ..

body writing

“Show, don’t tell” is the first lesson of Fiction Writing 101, and one of the easiest and quickest fixes is to replace the emotional adverbs and adjectives with some body language.

For example, instead of “He said, sadly,” you could write, “He said with tears welling in his eyes.” Or, for a deep point of view, skip the “he said” and just write “Tears welled in his eyes” instead of a dialogue tag.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when writing I get stumped. What body language goes, with, say, exasperation? So I Google it and spend half an hour going down a research rabbit hole. So I started assembling a cheat sheet I could refer to quickly, without getting distracted.

This is that cheat sheet.

Shaking fist Pointing finger Stabbing with finger Slamming fist on table Face flushed Veins throbbing in neck Jutting chin Clenched fist Clenched jaw Eyebrows lowered Eyes squinted Teeth bared Wide stance Tight-lipped smile Invading personal space Touching or rattling someone’s belongings or drink Rapid breathing Sweating Unwanted touching or flicking Moving one leg back into a fighting stance Invading personal space Flared nostrils Puffed chest Lowered, gravelly voice Insulting gestures Mock attacks Sudden movements Wide, exaggerated gestures Pursed lips Red face Slamming or punching things


Rubbing hands together Licking lips Unable to sit still Grinning

Throwing head back Slapping thighs Clapping hands Shaking with laughter Shaking head with a grin

Shaking fist Pointing finger Stabbing with finger Slamming fist on table Face flushed Veins throbbing in neck Jutting chin Clenched fist Clenched jaw Eyebrows lowered Eyes squinted Teeth bared Wide stance Tight lips Flared nose

Lips pressed together Eyes narrowed Rolling eyes Exasperated sigh

Fidgeting Twisting a ring Chewing on a pencil Biting lip Swallowing Quickened breathing Holding breath Eyes darting Sweating Clammy hands High-pitched laughter Hunched posture Pacing Stuttering Playing with hair


Furrowed brow Leaning forward Sitting up Taking notes Mimicking body language

Jaw dropped Frozen in place Fixed gaze

Yawning Avoiding eye contact Tapping feet Twirling pen Doodling Fidgeting Slouching

Clasping arms behind body Lifting head Chest pushed out Standing tall Making firm and precise movements

Head tilted Narrowed eyes Furrowed brow Shrugging

Lifted chin Pursed lips Sneering Stretching Turning away Waving hand dismissively

Lips twisted Half-smile Shaking head Lips pressed together into a slight frown Rolling eyes

One-sided shoulder shrug Looking down Scratching nose, ear, or neck Feet kicking out Shuffling feet Sudden change in demeanor Hesitation in speech Shifting eye contact Long blinks Shrugging Inappropriate smiling or laughter Shaking head “no” while saying “yes” Licking lips Covering or touching mouth


Crossing arms or legs Placing something in front of body Hands in pockets Holding hands palms up

Winking Looking up through eyelashes Glancing over shoulder Making eye contact Touching hair Touching clothing Straight back Thumbs in belt loops or pockets Dilated pupils Arching Stretching Women crossing and uncrossing legs

Eyes open wide Eyes narrowed Twisted mouth Crinkling nose Creased brow

Crinkling nose Curled lip Flinching Turning away Covering nose Gagging Eyes squinted shut


Fake smile Pouting Frowning Crossing arms

Rubbing neck Wide eyes Rapid breathing Hitting a wall Huddling in a corner Clasping hands over head Rocking Wringing hands Running hands through hair Adjusting cuffs Men holding hands in front of crotch

Chin up Chest out Shoulder back Hard handshake Leaning back with hands behind head and feet up Steady eye contact Hands on hips Straddling chair

Leaning forward Nodding Wide eyes Steady eye contact with raised eyebrows Hand on heart Double-handed handshake Feet pointed inwards


Blushing Stammering Covering face with hands Bowing head Looking away Looking down Blinking back tears

Rubbing eyes Staring into space Yawning Stretching Nodding off and jerking awake Gritting teeth Closing eyes Moving slowly Slouching

Delayed reactions

Sweating Shaking Eyebrows raised and pulled together Wide eyes Mouth slightly open

Curling into fetal position Contorting face Slumping Covering face or head with hands, arms, or pillow Staring Shaking Sobbing Trembling Turning away Difficulty swallowing Drooping eyelids

Smiling Laughing Humming Crinkling eyes and nose Swinging arms Spinning Dancing Jumping Hugging Giggling

Shaking fists, hands twisted into claws Bared teeth Throbbing vein in neck Sweating, red face, tightness in skin of face Flared nostrils Scathing tone Shouting or screaming Turning away or leaving when the other person arrives, changing plans to avoid them

Maintaining eye contact Smiling with whole face Looking up Palms up Open arms

Nodding quickly Tapping fingers Sighing Checking the time Tapping feet Increasing voice pitch Looking away

Tight lips Sour expression Narrow eyes Crossed arms

Physical closeness to someone, leaning against each other, sitting together so legs touch Obsessively checking for messages, constant texting Doodling love interest’s name with a heart Improving appearance, dying hair, exercising more Affectionate touches, playful shoving Smiling at nothing, beaming, silly grid Using pet names, terms of endearment Listening to love songs


Palms to forehead Splayed fingers over eyes Staring into space with wide eyes Gripping something


Winking Waggling eyebrows Nudging Smiling Tickling

Head tilted back Slightly parting lips Eyes wide Eyes closed Slow, languorous movements Stretching Arching back Flushing Rapid breathing Fast pulse


Handshake with arm clasp Hands around shoulders, neck, or waist Placing hands on a wall around someone Standing in their personal space angled towards them Running a knuckle down someone’s cheek Staring at people if they get too close

Shaky laughter Letting out a huge breath Looking up in silent prayer Raising hand for a high five

More at Writers Helping Writers and even more here by Kathy Steinemann .

Arms crossed Hands in fists Dragging feet Pinching nose Hands over ears

Droopy body Bowed body Wrapping arms around yourself Hesitating movements Bottom lip jutting out Quivering lip Crying Sobbing Shaking Dragging feet


Tight-lipped smile Hands in pockets Looking away Covering face Looking down

Slumped shoulders Looking down and away Burying face in hands Bowed head Straight mouth

Hands over mouth Mouth open Gasping Freezing Staring with wide eyes Raised eyebrows Smacking palm against forehead Stepping back

Blushing Avoiding eye contact Keeping distance from others Backing away if others come too close Arms folded Head bent Hugging the walls

Slight close-lipped smile One raised eyebrow Slightly tucked chin Enigmatic smile Raised eyebrows Steepled fingers

Wide eyes Wrinkled forehead Slack or open jaw

Narrow eyes Glancing sideways Raised eyebrow Rubbing eyes Shaking head Blowing out cheeks Frowning Tightening lips


Steepled fingers Pinching nose Closed eyes Tugging on ear Stroking beard Stroking chin Furrowing brow Narrow eyes Tilted head Lips pressed together Chin resting on hand Leaning back and looking up


Shaking fist Pointing finger Stabbing with finger Slamming fist on table Face flushed Veins throbbing in neck Jutting chin Clenched fist Clenched jaw Eyebrows lowered Eyes squinted Teeth bared Wide stance Tight-lipped smile Invading personal space Rapid breathing Sweating Unwanted touching or flicking Moving one leg back into a fighting stance Invading personal space Flared nostrils Puffed chest Touching or rattling someone’s belongings or drink

Holding hands together above head Tilting back head and yelling Pumping fist in air Jumping Roaring Whooping

Other Resources

A couple of years ago, I bought a copy of a book titled The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression , part of the Writers Helping Writers series.

body writing

I would still prefer a print version, though, to keep it on my physical bookshelf for easier and faster access.

Another book that covers some of the same ground is The Writer’s Lexicon: Descriptions, Overused Words, and Taboos  by Kathy Steinemann.

Do you have any other suggestions for how to convey emotion through action or body language? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the list!

And if you want more writing advice, I do a weekly round-up of the best writing advice articles from all around the web . Check it out!

Edited by Charles Hand

body writing

Maria Korolov

MetaStellar editor and publisher Maria Korolov is a science fiction novelist , writing stories set in a future virtual world. And, during the day, she is an award-winning freelance technology journalist who covers artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and enterprise virtual reality . See her Amazon author page here and follow her on Twitter , Facebook , or LinkedIn . Email her at [email protected] . She is also the editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business , one of the top global sites covering virtual reality.

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2 thoughts on “Body language master list for writers”

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This is a great list. Thank you for sharing this. I did notice one type of emotion that could be helpful to have.

What would be some good options for a serious character? It becomes a bit repetitive to say that the characters are serious, especially if readers would already know this from what is being discussed.

I have thought of locking eyes, a narrowing of the eyes, leaning forwards and taking a deeper breath. Would there be any others you would recommend?

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This is wonderful, thank you!

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body writing

The Basics of Female Body Language

body writing

How to read body language

Reading female body language isn’t really about spotting specific gestures and movements.  It’s about spotting changes in a woman’s behaviors.  So before you start looking for meaningful cues you’ve got to establish a “baseline” of her typical body language.  How she deviates from the baseline will then give you a glimpse into how she is feeling.  (This tip, along with many others in this article, were learned from body language expert Joe Navarro )

For example, some women are naturally flirty and will do a lot of touching during conversation.  So if you think a girl is interested in you just because she’s touching you then you may be mistaken.  What you want to look for is how a girl touches you compared with how she touches everyone else.  If she touches you more frequently than everyone else, or in more personal areas (she touches your chest while just touching everyone else on the arm) that difference is how you know she’s interested.

Signs of discomfort

One thing to keep in mind when looking for changes in female body language is if a woman “freezes up”.  This is a signal that shows discomfort, anxiety, or even insecurity.  It’s also one that can be spotted on any part of a woman’s body.  For example you may notice a woman playfully wiggling her feet under her chair – and then abruptly stop.  Seeing this sudden change can let you know that something has made her uncomfortable.

Signs of freezing are a good thing to look for when you want to escalate with a woman.  If a woman freezes up when you touch her (while avoiding eye contact) then it’s a sign she’s not yet ready to go any further.  At times like this it’s a good idea to step back and engage in some playful banter.  Once she feels more comfortable with you, try again.

Signs she’s engaged

The more positive body language you see from a woman the more interested and engaged she is.  What is positive body language?  If the girl is facing you directly and leaning in then she’s showing you positive body language.  If she’s leaning away or angles her body away from you, she’s showing negative body language.

The cool thing about positive and negative body language is that you can actually use it to create attraction with women.  If a woman is giving you attitude or saying things you don’t like you can respond simply with a bit of negative body language.  Angle your body away and let her see that she’s losing your attention.  This shows you’re a high-value guy who simply doesn’t put up with that kind of behavior.  As a result you’re going to come across as that much more attractive to her and any other woman watching.

Just like positive body language barriers can be a great way to see if a girl is gaining or losing interest in you.  If she enjoys talking to you, feels comfortable with you, and is hoping to connect with you, then she’ll start removing barriers.  If she’s feeling uncomfortable or distant, then she’s going to construct barriers between you.

What do these barriers look like?  They could be anything.  A woman crossing her arms or holding a something across her chest (a drink, bag, book, etc) are all forms of barriers.  If you’re sitting across the table from a woman she may move her water glass directly between you to construct a barrier, or place it to the side to remove it.  If she’s sitting she can create a barrier by crossing her legs away from you, or open up to you by crossing her legs in your direction.

Signs she’s flirting with you

The female body language signs most guys are interested in are the signs a woman is flirting with you.  Things like strong eye contact, twirling her hair, and the positive body language signs mentioned earlier can all be signs the girl is flirting with you.

But as mentioned before merely spotting these behaviors doesn’t mean the girl is definitely interested.  What you want to see is an increase in these behaviors from her usual baseline.  If you see multiple flirting signs from a woman that all deviate from typical behavior, then you can be far more certain that she’s interested in you.


Female body language can sometimes be tough to pick up on.  Microexpressions are a perfect example.  This is when an expression will flash across a woman’s face for just a fraction of a second (men do it, too).  If you’re not paying attention they can be very difficult to spot.  And that would be a shame as micro-expressions are a very accurate gauge for how a woman feels.

Any facial expression can briefly appear as a microexpression.  If a woman is happy but trying to conceal it, it’s only a matter of time until a smile briefly flashes across her face.  If she’s trying to hide a negative emotion that will eventually be revealed as well.  She may briefly crinkle her nose (the sign for disgust) or curl just one corner of her lip back (contempt).  If you see a microexpression that suggests one of these negative emotions it’s probably time to change environments or topic of conversation.

Give women what they want

If you want to put this knowledge of female body language to good use and start meeting and attracting more women, the Art of Charm can help.   Click here to learn how.

body writing

Blow up your phone with incoming text messages from women chasing you…

…women who find you irresistible, who wanna hang out with you and are planning dates for you.

If you’re tired of getting rejected and chasing women then…

Brian M

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MASTER LIST of Gestures and Body Language!

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Gestures and body language

matter a lot in fiction because nonverbal communication is so important. Gestures can help readers visualize a scene and get a feel for the characters. They can also set up lines of dialogue so you don’t have a string of he said, she said, he asked, etc., running down the page.

How to describe body language and gestures in writing may seem simple, but I find that when I’m in the middle of writing a scene, sometimes I draw a blank! It’s easy to wind up with characters who are nodding and shrugging all the time. Hopefully this list will help make writing body language easier.

Master List of Gestures and Body Language #master lists for writers free ebook #master lists for writers bryn donovan pdf #describing body language in writing #how to describe body language in writing #words to describe body language #NaNoWriMo #words to describe body language #words to describe gestures #writing body language

You might want to consider which gestures or what body language is typical for each of your characters. For instance, one of my characters in the novel I just finished tends to hug herself when she’s nervous, while another has a habit of rubbing at his shoulder when he’s uncomfortable. They only do it a few times each throughout the book, but I think details like that make characters feel more solid.

For a great guide to what body language means, I recommend What Every BODY Is Saying , by former FBI counterintelligence offer Joe Navarro and body language expert Marvin Karlins.

Some of the things in my list are not exactly body language or gestures, but are useful for dialogue tags. As with my list of facial expressions , I’ve included some different ways to say the same thing. There are some longer phrases and sentences, which you can obviously rewrite and adjust as you like, although you don’t have to.

Let me know if you have gestures or body language to add to this list! 

Master List of Gestures and Body Language

he lowered his head she hung her head he ducked she bowed her head he covered his eyes with a hand she pressed her hands to her cheeks

she raised her chin he lifted his chin

her hands squeezed into fists his hands tightened into fists she clenched her fists she balled her fists he unclenched his fists her arms remained at her sides

he shrugged she gave a half shrug he lifted his shoulder in a half shrug she gave a dismissive wave of her hand

she raised a hand in greeting he waved

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she held up her hands he lifted his hands she held up her palms he threw his hands in the air she brushed her palms together he rubbed his hands together she made a steeple of her fingers he spread his hands they gesticulated he waved his hands she clapped her hands he snapped his fingers she held up a finger he pointed she gestured with a thumb he jerked his thumb toward… she extended her middle finger toward him he gave her the finger she gave him the thumbs up

she put her hands on her hips she shoved her hands in her pockets he jammed his hands in his front pockets she rested a hand on her hip she jutted out her hip

she folded her arms he crossed his arms over his chest she hugged herself he wrapped his arms around himself she rocked back and forth

she spread her arms wide he held out his arms she held out her hand they extended a hand

he shook his head she nodded he bobbed his head she tilted her head he cocked his head she inclined her head he jerked her head in the direction of… she turned her face away he looked away

his breaths quickened she panted she was breathing hard his chest rose and fell with rapid breaths she took in a deep breath he drew in a long breath she took in a sharp breath he gasped she held her breath he let out a harsh breath she exhaled he blew out his cheeks she huffed he sighed she snorted

she laughed he giggled she guffawed he chuckled she gave a bitter laugh he gave mirthless laugh she tittered he cackled

she rubbed her shoulder he kneaded his shoulder he rolled his shoulders she tensed her shoulders he massaged the back of his neck she rubbed her temples she rubbed her hands on her thighs

she ran her hand through her hair he threaded a hand through his hair he raked his fingers through his hair he shoved his hair back away from his face she toyed with a lock of hair she played with her hair she twirled her hair she wrapped a curl around her finger she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear she undid her ponytail and shook out her hair she tossed her hair he buried his hands in his hair he stroked his beard he scratched his beard

she tugged at her earlobe he bit a nail she chewed on a cuticle she picked at her nails she inspected her fingernails he plucked at the cuff of his shirt she picked a piece of lint from her sleeve he adjusted the lapels of his jacket she fiddled with her earring / bracelet he twisted the wedding ring on his finger she played with her cell phone he tugged at his shirt collar he adjusted his tie she smoothed down her skirt

she scratched her nose he scratched his head he rubbed his forehead she rubbed her eyes she pinched the bridge of her nose he held his nose

she slapped her forehead he smacked his forehead he facepalmed he slapped a hand over her mouth she covered her mouth with her hand she pressed her fingers to her lips he held his finger up to his lips he rubbed his chin

she pressed a hand to her throat he clutched his chest he leaned against the wall she bounced on her toes she jumped up and down he tapped his foot she stomped her foot

she folded her hands in her lap she drummed her fingers on the table he tapped his fingers on the table he slammed his hand on the table she pounded her fist on the table she set her palms down flat on the table he rested his hands on the table she set her hands on the table, palms up he leaned back in his chair she hooked her feet around the chair legs he gripped the arm of the chair she put her hands behind her head he put his feet on the desk they fidgeted she jiggled her foot he swung his leg she crossed her legs he uncrossed his legs she crossed her ankles in front of her she stretched out her legs in front of her he sprawled out he put his feet on the desk

she cringed he shuddered she flinched he shivered she trembled his body shook she cowered he shrank from… she huddled in the corner

she gestured with her coffee cup

they gesture with their pen

he pulled away she jerked away he turned away she jolted upright he stiffened she straightened he tensed he jumped she jumped to her feet he stood up she rose from her seat

she relaxed he hunched she slouched her shoulders sagged his shoulders slumped she wilted he went limp he rolled his shoulders she squared her shoulders

she clasped her hands behind her back he puffed out his chest she thrust out her chest

he propped his chin on his hand she rested her chin on her palm he yawned she stretched

he turned around she whirled around he pivoted she reeled

she stepped away she drew nearer he leaned closer she inched forward he loomed closer he paced she shifted from one foot to the other he swayed on his feet she dragged her feet

she pumped a fist he thrust his fists in the air she punched the air

A slightly expanded version of this list of body language and gestures appears in my book Master Lists for Writers: Thesauruses, Plots, Character Traits, Names, and More. Click on the cover to check it out!

Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan #master lists for writers free pdf #master lists for writers free ebook #master lists for writers free kindle

Do you have thoughts or advice about how to use gestures or describe body language in writing? Let us know in the comments! Thanks so much for reading, and happy writing!

Related Posts

Dialogue Techniques: 50 Things Your Characters Can Do WHILE They Talk #how to write dialogue #writing dialogue #what are action tags #how to use action tags

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92 thoughts on “ master list of gestures and body language ”.

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Another excellent post, Bryn. It could save me considerable time poring through my book of body language. Thanks.

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i love this post. I didn’t know about many phrases about body expressions but it has helped me a lot. Thank You.

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Reblogged this on Shaven Wookiee and commented: Even more win!!!

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haha, thank you! So glad you find these useful! 🙂

Pleasure! 🙂

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Thank you again. Another very helpful list!

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Thank your for this!!

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Reblogged this on Marion Ueckermann ~ Author .

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Reblogged this on The Writers' Room .

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Oh wow… I needed this right now… how many times could my character roll her eyes, furrow her brow or exhale loudly – thank you!

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You, my fair lady, are one of a kind. Thanks a lot for sharing this.

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Reblogged this on Julia Daniels and commented: Great idea!

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Reblogged this on B. Shaun Smith and commented: Great list!

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Great post!

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Thank you so much Bryn!! I used this – and the facial expressions list – as a “cheat sheet” EXTENSIVELY while writing a fanfiction this summer. It saved me so much time and effort!

Oh, I am so, so glad! That’s exactly what I was hoping this would do — save people time. I would always have these times myself where I would get stuck and think, “Dang it, what does he do here?” 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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This is wonderful, thank you so much. 🙂

Reblogged this on Louise Forster .

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Love this<3

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Reblogged this on A Bundle of Cute.

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This is a great list. Another resource I just got in December is The Emotion Thesauraus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It’s organized by emotions in alphabetical order and gives lists of different gestures, expressions, and feelings to go along with each. So helpful, especially when your characters tend to do the same sorts of things (raising eyebrows, shrugging, etc) a lot.

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Hey Bryn! I’m Dutch and I’m writing my first fantasy, which I hope will be the start of a great series. I learned English from school and mainly from music, movies and games. I have a clear perspective of the direction where my story is heading, but I lack much knowledge about helpful tools to build three dimensional characters. When I found your master lists for writers I immediately ordered it and can’t wait for it to arrive. So a big big thank you!!!

Scarlett! Thanks so much for the kind words, and for getting the book! You clearly speak English very well. 🙂 I hope the lists about character traits, motivations, and quirks help you with your story!

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Wow! This is amazing!! Thank you!

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Just like in real life gestures and any body language signs do not always have a particular meaning. That’s why including such phrases makes writing more real and sometimes helps to keep the intrigue of uncertainty. Thank you so much for your advices!

Exactly! At first I tried to arrange these by emotion, but it’s really impossible for that reason. 🙂 Thank you for commenting!

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Great compilation with one little semantic note: the only context in which I can imagine someone extending one’s middle finger, written as such, is satire. If you’re writing something in which such a gesture is going to be used, flip the ****wits off!

I should have had “she flipped him off” on here! 😀 Thanks for commenting, Summer!

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from terry gene. I placed the ‘cover on my pinterest.’ it got lots of shares, so I checked out the book also. Hope you don’t mind, I bought the e-Pub for convenience. http://matryoschka.com

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I’ve purchased your book, ‘Master List For Writing.’ It’s a wonderful help when I’m stuck or feel like I’m repeating the same gesture, though I have one small problem with it. I purchased it though iBook and the format is backwards (the chapters start at the end and I “turn” the pages from right to left.). Thought you’d want to know, since it’s a little confusing and may deter people from buying the book.

Donna, thanks so much for getting the book and for the kind words. And whoa, that is so weird! The iBooks version looks normal on my Mac. Can I ask what device you’re using? I’d like to get it figured out. I’m so sorry you’re having that trouble!

I’m viewing the book on my iPad, using the iBooks app. Even when I first viewed the sample pages it was backwards. I wanted to flip to your Table of Contents, and it took me a moment to realize I had to swipe from right to left for it to work. I’d hate for someone to pass up your book after trying the sample because of this glitch. I hope it’s an easy fix.

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You should be a part of a contest for one of the highest quality sites on the web. I will recommend this web site!

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Hey, thanks a gazillion for this website. Your work is making my story come to life. Not only will i bookmark it, I too will recommend it to my students. Mac Lao Shi, China.

You are very welcome, Mac! I’m so glad it was helpful!

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Using these lists with my performing arts classes in Camden, NJ. Thank you so much. Huge respurce for my students

Oh wow, I never would have thought of that use for it! I’m so glad it was helpful!

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I absolutely love this, thank you. English isn’t my mother tongue but I like writing only in English. This is going to come in handy, thanks!

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i love writing but i have this problem of describing things and finding your site has helped a lot. your lists are a great help and i will be buying your book soon

Hi, Misty! I’m so glad they’re helpful. Be sure to follow the blog, if you aren’t already (there’s a place on the lefthand side of the blog to sign up) — that way you won’t miss any writing posts! Thanks again for the kind words. I hope you have a great year of writing in 2018!

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My name is Anil Rele. I live in New Delhi. I am writing the first novel which is a fictional story. I am on this project for the last three years. I was truly excited to read your list. It has been of tremendous help. Well, no words can fully convey my gratitude. Please continue your good work.

Hi, Anil! I am SO happy to hear this list is helpful. Be sure to follow the blog, if you haven’t already, so you don’t miss future lists…there’s a place to sign up right after the article. Good luck on the novel! I hope it goes great!

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Hey, Bryn! I am Amber and I started my first book on Wattpad and your facial expressions along with this one is really helping me. I am so grateful you published these lists. Keep up the good work!! ;D

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I find your list very useful to me for conducting Artificial Intelligence research in the area of natural language understanding. In fact even the best mechanical translators today have done poorly with some of the expressions, which makes the list a great benchmark for evaluating the progress of such AI technologies. Thank you so much for make the list available!

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Oh thank god. This was driving me crazy. I kept writing: She snapped her head toward the scream, then after that I had: Snapping her head around…Woah watch out for the flying head! xD Thank you, I finally have the right wording!

( She jerked her head in the direction of…) Ahhh. Each description doesn’t have to always be original. Especially if it saves my sanity.

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this is great thank you so much

thanks really helpful

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I think this would be a lot more useful with some idea of what the expressions imply

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Thank you very much! I am taking a writing class and this list of gestures and body language and also facial expressions help so much! My essays, creative writing, and stories would be close junk without all of these good resources.

Hi, Javier! I’m so glad they’re helpful! I hope everything’s going well with you. Thanks for the kind words!

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Thank you! This list is amazing it has enhanced my creative writings skills 100% .

You are very welcome! 🙂

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Thank you for this! I’m not a native English speaker but I’m challenging myself to write a story completely in English so this is really helpful!

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Thank you for this. I am an aspiring writer and this gestures and body languages is a great help. 🙂

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This is enlightening, but didn’t have what I needed. As a Deaf person, sounds is challenging for me to describe in my writing. Looking for sounds that comes from when a person “smacks” or “snaps” his tongue? Example, Looking distrustful, he teasingly snaps his tongue as a warning.

Hi there! You know for that one, I’d just say “He tsk ed and shot her a look of warning.”

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How would I describe a “so-so” motion? My character is asked a questions and he doesn’t answer verbally but his hand gestures and facial expression is supposed to suggest he’s saying “so-so” or “kinda”. I wrote it like this but it’s too verbose. “With his hands extended, faced down, and fingers spread apart, James rocks it ever so slightly.” Alternatively if there isn’t an easy way to express this with hand gestures I could go for some kind of facial expression but it would have to be clear that the character means “kinda” or “so-so”. For context, the character is an immigrant and his sister is asking him if his son speaks French. I want my character to answer non verbally this his son “kinda understands French” .

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What about “James holds out his hands and lowers and raises them expressing his confusion.” ? I think that is an easy way you can describe it. 😀

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This came in just when I needed it the most, thanks a lot.

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When You Write

How to Describe Body Language in Writing

The body can speak without uttering a word. In some real-life situations, body language is used to save lives or sign death penalties—i.e., a kidnapping victim can use facial expressions or hand gestures to signal to police or civilians that they’re in trouble.

In fiction writing, which is what we’ll be talking about in this post, body language has numerous uses, some of which the writer does not originally intend on when writing.

Body language is an effective non-verbal form of communication, and it adds depth and brings realism to a fictional story as the characters seem a little bit more alive when they use their bodies to communicate.

What Is Body Language?

Body language includes facial expressions, body posture, hand gestures, and other body cues that can be used to nonverbally communicate with other people.

These actions may be intentional or unplanned, but they have an impact on other people’s perceptions of us.

Body Language is Important, this is Why

So, why use body language?

We indeed talk a lot when trying to communicate with others but people mostly communicate using body language (like more than half of the time). When we are writing fiction, we use dialogue to insert breaks into the narration and body language is another great way of doing that. With body language, the characters aren’t just speaking, but they’re also revealing their personalities to the reader.

That adds a lot of depth to your fiction writing; the reader is shown—not told—how the characters show their emotions, and the body language reveals the characters’ distinct mannerisms.

Show, Don’t Tell!

The sacred rule of fiction writing—you’re allowed to be fluid, exercise some anarchy, or be divergent, but you CAN’T break this rule.

That’s a NO-NO. A cardinal sin!

Even with body language, you don’t have to tell the reader what’s happening; you have to show it! You have to get the reader into the story’s environment and give the precise feelings of the characters.

Almost impossible, right?

If you think that’s impossible, then you shouldn’t be a writer (at least not a fiction writer). You can only add depth using body language if you let the characters own those body cues, not the narrator.

I’ve written some words and phrases for you in a later section, jump to this section to see what words can be used to incorporate body language in your writing.

How to Use Body Language in Your Writing

1. facial expressions.

The face is the first body part when we think about communication. Even in real life, facial expressions are easier to read than other types of gestures and body cues (maybe that’s why “clowns at a kids’ party” is usually a good idea).

You can use facial expressions to show sadism, astonishment, anger, and a lot of other things.

2. Gestures

I know a lot of people that talk with their hands and sometimes they use their hands to do things without uttering a word. Characters are fashioned after real people so your readers would understand if your characters spoke using hand gestures.

One example would be when a villain uses a finger gun to tell a character that they were going to get killed.

The thing with hand gestures is that they can be interpreted differently in different cultural contexts. For example, you could use the middle finger in a certain cultural space and it wouldn’t have some vulgar implication.

Posture refers to the way our bodies are fixed when sitting or standing. Posture can also be used to show how a character behaves as himself as his bodily stances.

You can use posture to show the reader whether your character likes to sprawl or sit with legs crossed, assume a drooping posture, or stand tall.

Posture can be used to tell your readers a lot about your characters. For example, Straight posture indicates that you are interested in a conversation.

You can use implications like that to show one character’s reaction to another character’s speech or a group discussion.

A person might be saying something and the tone or pitch of their voice might be saying a completely different thing. That’s how important a person’s tone of voice is.

For instance, if a talkative person says “I’m happy” or “I’m okay” in a very slow, low pitch,  they’re probably lying—they’re not okay and surely not happy.

You can change your characters’ tones to show the readers that the character’s mood has changed or that they’re hiding something.

5. Physical appearance

The way we look says a lot about us. Someone whose ‘house is in order’ is usually clean, clean-shaven, and looks smart. Bad times can be reflected in a character’s appearance.

Imagine seeing an ex-coworker, say an accountant, with a huge beard and in dirty clothes, would think that they are still employed?

So you can use physical appearances to show your readers what kind of characters are in your story. You can also use physical appearance to twist the narrative and unravel some truths at the end of the story—like a homeless person turning out to be an undercover rich guy.

You can use tattoos, pants sagging, hairstyles, facial hair to paint a picture of your character.

Touch can be used to show a lot of emotions and actions. You can use gestures that relate to touch to show aggression, tenderness, or other actions.

There’s so much information that a single touch can convey.

A soft continuous caressing of a lover’s hand or other body parts might indicate affection and set the mood for romance in some instances, and a punch in the face shows aggression and sets the mood for a fight.

Tips for Using Body Language

1. use it to strengthen dialogue/add depth.

 I’ve already said that we speak more with our body than our mouth—more nonverbally than verbally. So if you hugely rely on dialogue to demonstrate how your characters communicate, you’re making your story less realistic (Not that it’s a must that a story should follow real-life patterns).

Body language helps you give your characters more depth and sets up a relatable, interactive feel for the readers.

In my other posts, I’ve also said using the simple ‘he said, she said’ dialogue tags is always effective . But… It’s also good to show who is speaking instead of telling your readers, and you can use body language to show how the character spoke.

You need to have a realistic balance between dialogue and description in your fiction writing.

2. Use It to Show Rather Than Tell

You may feel like I’m overstressing this point because I said it at the beginning of the post and in the first part of this section.

But it’s the sacred rule, and once you break it, you’re no longer a good writer. Simple!

So, always observe this rule.

3. Don’t Overexploit Body Language

If you use body language unconscionably, you will realize diminishing returns. Too much body language will slow your story down.

Everything has to advance your story, so you don’t need body language if it’s retarding the story’s development. Body language should be added to add something to the story, not take something from it, although it’s okay if you intentionally use body language to slow down your story.

4. Use Body Language to Connect Your Character’s Emotions with Their Actions

If you want your characters to be as realistic as possible, you have to show your reader that the characters’ emotions, thoughts, and actions are linked.

Body language has to correlate with the way your character acts or reacts to situations and set the reader for the impending actions.

Body Language Words and Phrases

Here are some of the phrases and words you can use to describe body language in your writing. These are just a few but a lot of them, and you can also make your own phrases.

Books On Writing Body Language

I don’t think you can master the art of writing body language by reading a couple of blog posts or by using tips from other authors. There are books that can help you learn and become good at writing body language.

Here are some of them:

1. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

2. The Writer’s A-Z of Body Language Paperback

Final Words

Over the years, I have come to realize that to become a good writer, there are a lot of things that you have to learn and master. You don’t have to go to a special school, but you still have to learn aspects of writing that improve you as a writer.

Using body language to express emotions, reactions, and add depth is one such aspect that you have to master. If you separate yourself from the characters, it’s going to be harder to express or use body language. But if you put yourself into the character’s state of mind and try to behave like they would, figuring out how they’d use body language to react to things or communicate is going to be easy.

One thing you must do is let your characters speak, whether by acting out some scenes or using the personalities.

If you nail the body cues, your readers will instinctively understand the characters’ impressions and will be able to understand what’s going on without needing your narrations.

Easier shown than said.

Recommended Reading...

How to write a bio that stands out, mastering novel word count: what is novel word count and what to consider, most popular book genres: a comprehensive guide, how to cite a lecture: a guide for students and professionals.

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© 2023 When You Write

Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing.

storm moving across a field

A Look at Body Language in Writing

by Ellen Buikema

body writing

More than half of human communication consists of body language, which we use to communicate feelings, thought, and ideas without speech. Body language impacts other people’s perception and conveys our emotions far more than we think it does. Physical descriptions of what our characters are doing allows us to show-not-tell what is happening to them internally. It is one of the simplest ways to give the reader a feel for characters’ depth of mood and attitude.

Can you communicate well with others if you sit on your hands? I tried to and discovered that I don’t express myself as well.  I’m a hand-gesturer. Plus, with COVID-19 upon us, I’ve realized how often I touch my face!

I also move around a lot, especially if I’m nervous. The first time I taught a classroom full of adults, I paced the entire time. Thinking back, I wonder if I made anyone dizzy.

Simple tasks require a surprising amount of movement.

Here’s a quick exercise that will give you a feel for how many movements you actually make. It will help you determine the balance needed between dialogue and description in your writing.

Choose an activity you commonly do at home or at work. It can be as small a task as sitting in a chair, working on the laptop, or other computer keyboard. Here are a few possible questions to get you started.

Write out what you are physically doing, making a conscious effort to write all the steps you take. The first time I tried this I was shocked at how many little steps are involved in doing even simple tasks. Weave these descriptions into your manuscripts to help your characters come alive.

Other Body Language Recommendations

Showing Emotion

Make a list of the emotions your main characters exhibit along with the accompanying body language. Think about how your main characters move and react. How does your antagonist look when she is amused? What body language does your protagonist use when angered?

Avoid repetitive gestures.

Repeating gestures can be annoying. Certainly, it feels forced. Not every character should clench their fists or waggle their eyebrows. One character can habitually use the same gesture now and then, but not everyone. (Although thinking about a town full of people waggling their eyebrows makes me chuckle.)

Use vivid action verbs.

Choosing the right verb helps express the emotion you want to convey. For example, there are many ways to walk and each alternative verb implies an emotion. We can:

Each of the three verbs is a form of walking, all with different nuances. Each paints a distinct picture.

For dialogue tags, said is never wrong. Unfortunately, I find myself using smile, laugh, and nod. My current Work In Progress had a whole lot of nodding going on. After someone brought this to my attention, I did a "nod search" on my Word document and was appalled by the many cheerful yellow highlights.

Wise words from my editor about empty words and gestures. (Those are pauses between lines of dialogue that don’t advance a scene or characterize.) She said, “If you point something out by putting it down on the page, it needs a reason to be there. Your job during your editing phase is to second guess every image you put down on the page and make sure it’s clearly what you mean.”

Don’t overdo.

Too many descriptors make readers focus on the details instead of the feelings you want them to experience. Or worse, it gives readers a chance to trip on the details and get pulled out of the story. Meaningless details interrupt the flow.

As with all else in writing, put just enough body language in your prose to get your point across.

Further reading:

Do you struggle with writing effective body language? Do you have a gesture like nodding that you overuse? Share your body language tips and questions with us down in the comments!

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Ellen

body writing

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Work In Progress,  The Hobo Code , is YA historical fiction.

Find her at  http://ellenbuikema.com  or on  Amazon .

body writing

Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay

18 comments on “A Look at Body Language in Writing”

Such a great topic! I often find myself getting up and acting out a scene when I'm writing so I can know what the movements and sensations are! I also struggle with finding ways to convey body language that are concise and accessible, but not over-used. My characters always seem to shrug, nod, and raise their eyebrows LOL. Thank goodness for that "search" box that shows me how often they do that! On the other hand, sometimes those "standard" words are just fine because they get the job done without drawing attention to themselves. Being too creative can break the flow of the scene. Another aspect of our craft that requires a balancing act!

Being too "flowery" can definitely pull me out of the story I'm reading.

Acting out the scenes makes a big difference!

Smiling, shrugging, and nodding are on my hit list for my first editing pass.

Our eldest daughter's Freshman year English teacher gave her class a list of forbidden words. This made writing more difficult, but seriously improved her writing.

Hit list! The perfect term.

My characters smile all over the place as well. That find feature is humbling.

Excellent post. I find that my cozy characters roll their eyes and shrug, whereas my Gothic characters glance nervously and have racing hearts. And even nonverbal cues that might look the same--I'm thinking smiling and grinning--have different connotations depending on which word we use.

I love The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It really gets me thinking about all the different ways we express our emotions and it's a treasure trove for writers who need new words to describe how a character is thinking or feeling.

Thanks for the great post!

And you have the second edition, right? They added 30÷ things!

The Emotion Thesaurus is a go to resource for me as well. It helps me get unstuck when I discover a repeated descriptions in my writing: batting eyelashes and hand on hip moments overplayed!

When we say, "show not tell" body language is definitely a HUGE part of that.

Absolutely. The show is all about body language.

Amy, thank you for your recommendation. I'll check out The Emotional Thesaurus.

It's interesting to note the different uses of body language in various genres. I'm glad you brought that up.

Sometimes, if I'm trying to vary action tags, I'll give characters an object, like a pencil, to tap, throw, or doodle with, depending on emotion. Or, they might be doing a task in a location but they'll be stomping around the room and talking or slamming drawers if angry. If sad or reflective, maybe they're sitting and twisting their coffee cup rather than drinking, etc. It's interesting to see how other authors do this.

I enjoy seeing how other writers use body language to express emotions. Reading other's work shows us different directions to go. Currently I'm reading a SciFi novel. The author did extensive research and wove that into her book. One of the characters has significant bodily damage and uses an exoskeleton, making for unusual body language.

Thanks, Ellen, great post. It made me think of my WIP and without even looking back at the ms I am sure I have overused "shrug." Something to look out for. Oh, well. I'll keep my eyes open on the next pass. All kidding aside, thanks again.

I'm glad the post is helpful, James! I think we all have our pet words. Thank goodness for word search, however ghastly cheerful.

Thank you for the examples of showing the emotions through body language. We convey emotion and thoughts subconsciously in real life and it makes sense for our readers to experience this in our writing. It makes me want to people watch for research!

People watching is ALWAYS fun.

I'm sure I do, I can't think of one off hand. I try to search for overuse words.

I did notice a friend using "shimmied her shoulders" in a book several times recently. It didn't fit the character. I don't think she was using the right word for the action she wanted. denise

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A black-and-white photo of Dorothy L. Sayers, seated, wearing a large fur coat and holding a skull.

A Classic of Golden Age Detective Fiction Turns 100

Dorothy L. Sayers dealt with emotional and financial instability by writing “Whose Body?,” the first of many to star the detective Lord Peter Wimsey.

Dorothy L. Sayers at the Detection Club, a society of crime writers that she helped establish. Credit... Popperfoto/Popperfoto, via Popperfoto Via Getty Images

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By Sarah Weinman

In a 1937 essay , the English writer Dorothy L. Sayers explained the genesis of her most famous character and one of crime fiction’s most memorable detectives, Lord Peter Wimsey. “When in a lighthearted manner I set out, 15 years ago, to write the first ‘Lord Peter’ book,” she wrote, “it was with the avowed intention of producing something ‘less like a conventional detective story and more like a novel.’”

She would admit in this same essay that “Whose Body?” didn’t quite live up to her lofty expectations when it came out a century ago this month. This was her debut novel, and when Sayers looked back on it 15 years later, after she had published more substantial works like “The Nine Tailors” (1934) and “Gaudy Night” (1935), “Whose Body?” seemed, to her, like frippery. Sayers’s self-assessment does not take into account that the novel is pure pleasure to read, fulfilling a desire for escape — something readers want as much now as they did 100 years ago.

“Whose Body?” was published at a pivotal moment in the life of Dorothy Leigh Sayers. Nearing 30, she had recently started her first real job and was also finally ending an unhappy, protracted relationship with the writer John Cournos, who tried to convince her to sleep with him and embrace his commitment to “free love.” She refused.

Sayers dealt with her emotional and financial instability by deciding to write a novel. She conjured Lord Peter, a gentleman of the highest order and clearly something of a fantasy, aspirational and romantic. Rather than needing to work, Lord Peter was independently wealthy. Instead of being a cautious introvert, he was lively and charming, with a “long, amiable face.”

This early cover of “Whose Body?,” by Dorothy Sayers, is an illustration of a gentleman clad in a suit, with a purple shirt with cuff-links and a purple tie. He is peering through a monocle. In the background there is what appears to be a dead body slumped over the edged of a bathtub.

But like Sayers, Lord Peter possessed considerable intellectual powers, which he needed to solve the double mystery in “ Whose Body? ” — the murder of a “tall, stout man of about 50” discovered in a bathtub, naked but for a pair of gold pince-nez, and the disappearance of a wealthy financier. Lord Peter, with help from his manservant and a Scotland Yard detective, puzzled out the connections as mystery fiction readers demanded. What elevated Sayers’s debut to the upper ranks of the genre was the quality of her prose and the sense that her sleuth had more emotional heft than he displayed.

When “Whose Body?” was published 100 years ago, in May 1923, the reviews were largely favorable. “The best detective story we have read since we stopped regarding books purely as amusements,” The New York Herald declared. The New York Times judged there to be “no reason why the discerning, but by no means infallible, Lord Peter should not become one of the best-known and best-liked among the many amateur detectives of fiction.”

At the time, Sayers was one of relatively few women writing detective fiction. Agatha Christie’s “ The Mysterious Affair at Styles ,” which introduced Hercule Poirot, had appeared three years earlier. While Margery Allingham would go on to publish her debut, “ Black’erchief Dick ,” not long after “Whose Body?,” she wouldn’t create her own gentleman sleuth, Albert Campion, until 1929 — the same year that Josephine Tey’s first mystery, “The Man in the Queue,” came out. Ngaio Marsh didn’t publish her first novel, “A Man Lay Dead,” until 1934.

Sayers had the confidence to embark upon Lord Peter’s next adventure, “Clouds of Witness,” before “Whose Body?” was ever published. But her second novel would not be released until 1926, most likely because of the changed circumstances in her life.

After her relationship with Cournos ended, Sayers met a car salesman named Bill White and began a brief relationship that resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. When Sayers told him, White disappeared. The sense of shame she must have felt as an unmarried woman, let alone one with a First Class Honors degree from the University of Oxford and a burgeoning career as a novelist, would have been overwhelming.

She hid the pregnancy from her parents, took a month of sick leave from work to give birth in secret and gave the baby to a cousin to raise. Although Sayers would be a presence in her son’s life after his birth in January 1924, he did not learn the truth until after her death in 1957.

Whatever emotions she buried ended up fully sublimated in the subsequent Lord Peter novels, which, after 1926, emerged in near-annual bursts until Sayers gave up writing detective novels after “Busman’s Honeymoon” in 1937. By then, she felt she had exhausted the format, more interested in human behavior than in mystery plots.

Sayers stopped writing detective fiction to focus on religion and translating Dante’s trilogy into English. But she never strayed far from the mystery world. She was a co-founder of the crime-writer society the Detection Club and indulged a healthy interest in real-life crimes. More important, the genre never strayed far from Sayers, reconfiguring the gentleman detective of her imagination for fresh generations in need of escape, comfort and a desire to vanquish “jiggery-pokery” — a favorite phrase of hers, and one that I’d like to see back in regular circulation.

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Martin Amis: Our critic assesses the achievement  of Britain’s most famous literary son, who died on May 19  at age 73.

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CNN values your feedback

Biden officially vetoes bill that would repeal dc justice reform measure.

Donald Judd

President Joe Biden on Thursday vetoed a Republican-led measure that would overturn police reforms enacted in Washington, DC, writing the legislation “would overturn commonsense police reforms,” such as chokehold bans, standards for use of force, rules around the use of body cameras and officer training programs.

“I believe we have an obligation to make sure that all our people are safe and that public safety depends on public trust. It is a core policy of my Administration to provide law enforcement with the resources they need for effective, accountable community policing,” Biden wrote, but “the Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s right to pass measures that improve public safety and public trust. I continue to call on the Congress to pass commonsense police reform legislation.”

Earlier this year, an administration official told CNN’s Phil Mattingly Biden would veto the measure if it passed Congress.

Republican sponsors of the resolution, which passed the House in April, said that the legislation would weaken the power of law enforcement officers to effectively respond to crime, labeling it an “anti-police law.”

Democrats have long argued that Congress should not interfere with DC’s government and have defended reforms outlined in the legislation.

Biden’s move to veto the Republican backed measure stands in contrast with a bill he signed into law in March blocking a different controversial DC crime bill after the district’s city council overrode a veto from Mayor Muriel Bowser. The president’s decision to sign, rather than veto, that measure drew criticism from the progressive wing of his own party.

In a tweet defending his decision to support the bill, Biden wrote that while he supports “D.C. statehood and home-rule,” he opposed provisions of the DC crime bill, including lower penalties for carjackings.

This time around, the Biden administration released a statement of administration policy confirming the president planned to veto the GOP-backed measure overturning police reforms before House passage of the bill.

The veto is the fourth of Biden’s presidency, and reflects a change in the administration’s dynamic after Republicans successfully took control of the House in January.

Previously, Biden vetoed legislation overturning a retirement investment rule allowing managers to consider environmental, social and governance factors when picking investments, a measure that would’ve rescinded the administration’s landmark water rule, and a resolution that would’ve blocked the temporary suspension of tariffs on solar panel imports.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Clare Foran contributed to this report.


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  1. Body Writing 101 (Ultimate Guide for Beginners)

    Body writing is the act of writing or drawing on someone's body with a pen, pencil, or another instrument. It can be used as a form of communication, to show affection, or for personal empowerment and gratification. Body writing is also a common fetish in BDSM. (This post may have afilliate links.

  2. Writing the Body: Trauma, Illness, Sexuality, and Beyond

    By Literary Hub. December 6, 2016. In September, Michele Filgate's quarterly Red Ink Series—focused on women writers, past and present—brought together Eileen Myles, Ruth Ozeki, Porochista Khakpour, Anna March, and Alexandra Kleeman for a wide-ranging discussion about writing the body, from health to gender, sexuality, and beyond.

  3. How to Understand Body Language and Facial Expressions

    Smiling is perhaps one of the greatest body language signals, but smiles can also be interpreted in many ways. A smile may be genuine, or it may be used to express false happiness, sarcasm, or even cynicism. 9. When evaluating body language, pay attention to the following mouth and lip signals: Pursed lips.

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    Skin writing is often seen in young adults. The following factors may make the condition worse: exercise. heat. cold. stress. vibration. alcohol use. More than 80 percent of those contacted by ...

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    For all the words about describing facial features, I'm focusing more on physical descriptions rather than emotional expressions, though there's a little crossover! You can also check out my long list of facial expressions. large. small. narrow. sharp. squinty. round. wide-set.

  6. 😏 : r/BodyWriting

    Such as [positive] , [degrading] , [nondegrading], [weight shaming] , [requests] Ect. You can also state how extreme you would like it such as [soft], [harsh], [extreme] . For example If you do not want degrading comments but want name calling you should comment with " [nondegrading] [name calling]" I am a bot, and this action was performed ...

  7. Body Paragraphs: How to Write Perfect Ones

    How to write a body paragraph. First and foremost, double-check that your body paragraph supports the main thesis of the entire piece, much like the paragraph's supporting sentences support the topic sentence. Don't forget your body paragraph's place in the greater work. When it comes to actually writing a body paragraph, as always we ...

  8. How to Write a Body Paragraph

    6 Steps for Writing an Effective Body Paragraph. There are six main steps to crafting a compelling body paragraph. Some steps are essential in every paragraph and must appear in a fixed location, e.g., as the first sentence. Writers have more flexibility with other steps, which can be delayed or reordered (more on this later).

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    Body writing is underpinned by queer-feminist theory and desire for agency. Exploring themes of gender in the context of a specific place, Body Writing sees new material curiosities to consider how the artists matrilineal history carries significance to present and always shifting notions of self. Brianna's visual language sees reflective ...

  10. My Body, Myself

    In order to get writing, I thought it would be helpful to figure out where in my body my writing came from. I needed to locate the essence of my voice—my self—within, to ground me so that I could both remember and discover what I had to say. Once I located my voice and returned it to it, I rediscovered the ability to write my trustworthy truth.

  11. How to Write the Body of an Essay

    The body is always divided into paragraphs. You can work through the body in three main stages: Create an outline of what you want to say and in what order. Write a first draft to get your main ideas down on paper. Write a second draft to clarify your arguments and make sure everything fits together. This article gives you some practical tips ...

  12. Body language master list for writers

    AI-generated illustration created with Midjourney. Read our Midjourney review here. "Show, don't tell" is the first lesson of Fiction Writing 101, and one of the easiest and quickest fixes is to replace the emotional adverbs and adjectives with some body language.

  13. The Basics of Female Body Language

    One thing to keep in mind when looking for changes in female body language is if a woman "freezes up". This is a signal that shows discomfort, anxiety, or even insecurity. It's also one that can be spotted on any part of a woman's body. For example you may notice a woman playfully wiggling her feet under her chair - and then abruptly ...

  14. Body Swap Interactive Stories

    INTERACTIVE STORIES. Interactive Stories are "choose your own ending" stories started by an Author and continued by any Writing.Com member that wishes to participate. At the end of each chapter, readers are given a few plot choices and must choose the direction of the story. When you come to the end of a storyline, it's your turn to add a chapter!

  15. MASTER LIST of Gestures and Body Language!

    he swayed on his feet. she dragged her feet. she pumped a fist. he thrust his fists in the air. she punched the air. *. A slightly expanded version of this list of body language and gestures appears in my book Master Lists for Writers: Thesauruses, Plots, Character Traits, Names, and More.

  16. How to Describe Body Language in Writing

    How to Use Body Language in Your Writing. 1. Facial expressions. The face is the first body part when we think about communication. Even in real life, facial expressions are easier to read than other types of gestures and body cues (maybe that's why "clowns at a kids' party" is usually a good idea). You can use facial expressions to ...

  17. Effective Body Language in Writing

    A Look at Body Language in Writing. More than half of human communication consists of body language, which we use to communicate feelings, thought, and ideas without speech. Body language impacts other people's perception and conveys our emotions far more than we think it does. Physical descriptions of what our characters are doing allows us ...

  18. Body Parts Writing Teaching Resources

    Teacher Heather Flower's Materials and Lessons. This activity pack includes six flashcards and two games to practice body parts vocabulary for English language learners.The flashcards include six vocabulary words : "head, eyes, nose, mouth, legs, and arms."The dice game allows students to practice speaking and writing vocabulary in groups of two.

  19. Human Body Writing Activities Teaching Resources

    Skeleton Art & Writing Project, 3-D Human Body Activity, Halloween October ArtThis is a fun and easy paper craft activity! Just copy it and have students cut and color. The body bends into a cylinder shape so it's a 3-D project! There are 2 writing pages to choose from. They fold into a tent shape to stand beside the project!A fun activity with ...

  20. The Detective Novel 'Whose Body?,' by Dorothy L. Sayers, Turns 100

    Dorothy L. Sayers dealt with emotional and financial instability by writing "Whose Body?," the first of many to star the detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Dorothy L. Sayers at the Detection Club, a ...

  21. Biden officially vetoes bill that would repeal DC justice reform ...

    President Joe Biden on Thursday vetoed a Republican-led measure that would overturn police reforms enacted in Washington, DC, writing the legislation "would overturn commonsense police reforms ...