Words Lie; Body Language Doesn’t

Why is it that when you look at certain people, you think they’re pleasant or kind, or maybe even mean? Before they say a word, you make judgments about whether you want to saunter over and listen to their words.

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It’s their body language–the set of their mouth, their facial expressions, their gestures. Often, these are movements they aren’t aware of, but telegraph so much information to you, you make decisions about your interest in approaching them.

This is true with the characters in the books you write, too. If you write about characters, it can’t just be their actions and their dialogue. You have to show us when they frown at something that happens, when they peer into a crowd looking for a friend. How they use their hands–or don’t use them–as they speak. When they scratch their ear and look down or hug themselves when they’re upset. These are the parts that endear a character to the reader, make us worry about or for them, or cause us to fear them. Leave them out at your own peril.

Here are about fifty descriptors that cover the head area–eyes, mouth, neck, etc. As with all my descriptors–they are from the writing of others. Use them for inspiration, but nothing more (that’s what I do):

Voice

  • His voice trailed off; the conclusions were inescapable
  • Spoke in a hoarse whisper
  • Said with weary resignation
  • Hollow voice
  • Voice low and gravely
  • Voice thick with conviction, guilt, etc
  • She asked between bites of calamari
  • Voice cracked and raw
  • Speaking in quiet tones
  • Hadn’t realized she was holding her breath
  • Breathy explosion of words
  • Tone weary, but cheerful
  • Voice low, tone uncertain
  • Something like a sigh
  • Words were slurred and lisping
  • Mouth turned up a fraction of an inch
  • Spittle on his lips
  • His thin voice took on a pedantic tone
  • The babble of talk died at his entry. He blinked as his eyes adjusted.
  • No, yes, maybe, I don’t know—Shit! She yelped
  • I sense a ‘but’ coming
  • Yes, she lied
  • “I don’t know.” Again, too rapid
  • Breath came in ragged gasps
  • Anger crept into his voice
  • Bark out critical info in short, sharp yelps
  • Tight-lipped
  • Brow puckered
  • Raised his right eyebrow

Hands

  • hands shaking in a palsy of rage
  • Hands clamped tightly together, leaning forward, knuckles white
  • His hands crossed in front of him
  • That fast-wave women do
  • Shook like the wings of a hummingbird fingers tightly intertwined
  • Knuckle cracking
  • Flapped a hand,
  • Folded his arms across his chest
  • Soft handshake
  • Firm, manly handshakes

Face
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  • Worry lines framed her mouth and tugged at her eyes
  • Forced a smile
  • Muscles in his jaw bunched
  • Her dead mother smiled across the gulf of time
  • Long face, pensive and worried
  • Shook his head and turned back
  • His grimace that of a man who’s bitten into a moldy plum
  • Tears started again without sound or movement
  • Smile faded from his face
  • Tepid smile
  • Grit his teeth

Eyes

  • Vision narrowed to a pinprick
  • Eyes locked on like magnets
  • Studied her w/ a predator’s unwavering attention
  • Blinked a couple of times
  • Squinted out into the audience
  • Eyes narrowed to slits
  • Narrowed his eyes
  • Eyes locked in a shared understanding
  • Yellow rimmed eyes narrowing
  • Eyes turned inward
  • Peer sightlessly at a wall
  • Staring sightlessly into the darkness
  • Stared into the distance
  • Fixed expression
  • Looked at a place somewhere over his shoulder
  • Their eyes met, but he broke it off
  • Meaningful eye contact
  • Risked a peek
  • She screwed her eyes shut

Neck

  • Skin on the back of his neck puckered
  • Muscles at the back of her neck tightened
  • Fluffed the hair at the back of her neck when she was thinking

Arms

  • Elbows resting on his knees
  • Locked arms

Walking

  • Recognized the swagger of a failed cop wannabe whose life had already peaked
  • Walked toward them with grim determination, her spine bent forward in a dowager’s hump
  • Strutted into the room as thought it was her favorite watering hole
  • Turned on his heel
  • Stepping lightly
  • Lumbered down the sidewalk
  • Walk with labored dignity
  • Shambling
  • Walked at her usual brisk pace, the swagger was gone, and her shoulders were slumped as though the night had beaten her down and stolen her confidence.

Sitting

  • He sat back in his chair, crossed one leg over the other, and tapped his fingers together
  • Crouched by the fire
  • Sat slumped in the water, his reputation in ruins around him

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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How to Tell if Someone is Lying: Body Language

658925_lil_pinoccioOver half of our communication is done with body language, not words. I study it so I can characterize the people in my books–their actions, hand gestures, facial expressions–and it has taught me a lot about reading people’s interior monologue–those ideas they don’t want to share, but inadvertently do. Even the best speakers have a difficult time preventing twitches, unconscious hesitations or muscle movements from giving away what they truly feel.

Here are some of the ‘tells’ (movements the person doesn’t realize they are doing) that someone is lying:

Verbal Context and Content

  • A liar will use your words to answer a question. When asked, “Did you eat the last cookie?” The liar answers, “No, I did not eat the last cookie.”
  • A statement with a contraction is more likely to be truthful: “I didn’t do it” instead of “I did not do it.”
  • Liars sometimes avoid “lying” by not making direct statements. They imply answers instead of denying something directly.
  • The guilty person may say too much, adding unnecessary details to convince you. They are uncomfortable with silence or pauses in the conversation.
  • A liar may leave out pronouns and speak in a monotonous tone. When a truthful statement is made, the pronoun is emphasized as much or more than the rest of the words in a statement.
  • Words may be garbled and spoken softly, and syntax and grammar may be off. In other words, his sentences will likely be muddled rather than emphasized.
  • Listen for a subtle delay in responses to questions. An honest answer comes quickly from memory. Lies require a quick mental review of what they have told others to avoid inconsistency.
  • Lowered heads indicate a reason to hide something. If it is after an explanation, s/he may be lying, unsure if what they said was correct.
  • Look into their eyes. Liars will consecutively look at you and look away a number of times.
  • Avoiding direct statements or answers
  • Leaving out pronouns (he, she, it, etc.)

Other signs of a lie:

  • Watch their throat. A person may be either trying to lubricate their throat when he/she lies OR swallowing to avoid the tension built up.
  • Watch hands, arms and legs, which tend to be limited, stiff, and self-directed when the person is lying. The hands may touch or scratch their face, nose or behind an ear, but are not likely to touch their chest or heart.
  • If you believe someone is lying, change subject quickly. A liar follows along willingly and becomes more relaxed. They want the subject changed. An innocent person may be confused by the sudden change in topics and will want to go back to the previous subject.
  • Or, if you believe someone is lying, allow silence to enter the conversation. Observe how uncomfortable and restless the person becomes.
  • Liars more often use humor or sarcasm to avoid a subject.
  • Under the eyes, small pockets of flesh pop up when someone smiles, but only if the smile is genuine.

Deception–maybe they aren’t lying, but they’re hiding something

  • covering the mouth with the hands
  • rubbing the side of the nose
  • leaning away from you
  • micro shrug
  • voice pitch increases
  • Liars, he says, use more “negative emotion” words (hurt, ugly, nasty) and fewer first-person singulars.

Sound complicated? It isn’t, but it requires listening with all of your senses, not just your ears.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, Technology in Education featured blogger, and IMS tech expert. She is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-6 Digital Citizenship curriculum, creator of technology training books for middle school and ebooks on technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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