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The NonVerbal Thesaurus

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By OokamiKasumi
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NonVerbal:
Not spoken > Body Language.

Thesaurus:
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Latin thesaurus, treasury, from Greek thesauros.
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n. pl. the•sau•ri (-sôri) or the•sau•rus•es
1. A book of synonyms, often including related and contrasting words and antonyms.
2. A book of selected words or concepts, such as a specialized vocabulary of a particular field.
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The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009.


Dialogue is VISUAL
-- Not just a bunch of words.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Watch the average conversation between two people. 90% of that conversation isn't in what's Spoken, it's in what they are DOING while they are speaking. It's in their Body Language. Body-language cues in your story alert the reader by SHOWING them what is going on in a character's head without Telling them, and without resorting to using the most often repeated word in fiction: said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I love you too." She raised her balled fist and smiled with bared teeth. "Oh yes, I truly do love you." She thrust up her middle finger.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


How to use this List.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DON'T try to copy-paste any of this directly into your story! While the terms listed are accurate, they're also Scientific. It's up to you to swap out the scientific terms for more fitting literary phrases to suit your story.

Example:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
She was angry. "How dare you...?"

Body language cue:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Anger:
a. Jaws tensed to a biting position; "I'm going to bite you!"

Adjusted:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
She clenched her jaw, grinding her teeth. "How dare you...?"

Got it?


The NONVERBAL THESAURUS
A Writer's Cheat-Sheet to BODY LANGUAGE CUES



KEY: The gesture; the meaning behind the gesture.

ANGER
Annoyance, Resentment, Rage

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a. Jaws tensed to a biting position; "I'm going to bite you!"
b. Chest expansion, squaring of shoulders, and/or hands-on-hips; "I'm bigger than you."
c. Cut-off and head-jerk cues; "No. I don't want that."
d. Hand-behind-head / hand-above-head. "I may or may not strike you."
e. Fists, palm-down beating gestures. "I will strike you!"
f. Frowning and tense-mouth expressions; "Don't make me bite you."
g. Growling voice tones; "Consider me a threat."
h. Staring; "I consider you a threat."
I. Gaze avoidance; the head is turned fully away to one side; "Run while I am not looking and I will not attack you."



DISGUST
Revulsion, Loathing, Nausea

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a. Curled upper lip, a retracted upper lip, and mouth movements. "I feel like vomiting."
b. Digestive sounds of revulsion. Guttural sounds ("ach" or "ugh"); "I AM going to vomit!"
c. Narrowed or partly closed eyes; "I don't want to see that!"
d. Lowered brows of the frown face. "I don't want to smell that!"
e. Backward head-jerks and side-to-side head-shakes. "I don't want to taste that!"
f. Visible protrusions of the tongue. "I can see that it tastes bad."


FEAR
Anxiety, Apprehension, Dread

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a. Angling body away; "Don't touch me."
b. Release of underarm scent; "Go away! I am unappealing! I stink!"
c. Increase in breathing rate. "I'm going to run away!"
d. Trembling and/or chattering teeth. "I want to run away!"
e. Crouching. "Don't hurt me!"
f. Crying. "I'm hurt enough!"
g. Displacement gestures; "How did THIS happen?"
h. Fast eye-blink rate. "I don't believe what I'm seeing!"
i. Fear grin. "I'm friendly! Honest!"
j. Widely opened flashbulb eyes. "I can't believe this!"
k. Unconscious escape motions designed to remove a body part, or parts, from danger (e.g., flexing the neck to lower and protect the head). "Don't hit me!"
l. Freeze reactions; "Am I in danger?"
m. Hair-bristling; "I feel danger!"
n. Accelerated heart rate. "I'm getting ready to run away!"
o. Tightened shoulder muscle tension; "It's going to hit me!"
p. Screaming; "Don't touch me!"
q. Squirm cues; "Let go of me."
r. Staring eyes with wide-dilated pupils; "How much danger am I in?"
s. Sweaty palms. "I don't wanna touch that!"
t. Tense-mouth. "Don't make me bite you."
u. Throat-clearing. "I want to vomit."
v. Audibly tense tone-of-voice, either low and close to a growl, "I'm warning you..." or high to present a non-threatening sound. "I'm not a threat!"
w. Yawning. "I have no fangs, see? I'm not a predator!"


HAPPINESS
Contentment, Well-being, Joy

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a. Laugh or smile
b. Tears; "I am overwhelmed."

Unlike most other facial signs of emotion, the smile is subject to learning and conscious control. In the U.S., Japan, and many other societies, children are taught to smile on purpose, e.g., in a courteous greeting, whether or not they actually feel happy. A true (i.e., involuntary) smile, crinkles the skin around the outside corners of our eyes, forming "crow's feet" or smiling eyes.


SADNESS
Sorrow, Unhappiness, Depression, Gloom

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a. Bowing postures; "I'm terribly sorry."
b. Cry face and lip-pout; "Please don't hurt me anymore."
c. Gazing-down; "I am not a challenge."
d. Slumped flexed-forward posture of the shoulders; "I give up."
e. Audible sigh; "I give up."
f. Compressed lips; "No, I don't want that."

The facial features constrict as if to seal-off contact with the outside world. In acute sadness, muscles of the throat constrict and repeated swallowing occurs, the eyes close tightly, and then tears.


UNCERTAINTY
Indecision, Misgiving, Doubt

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a. Involuntary sideward eye movements; "Where is the danger coming from?"
b. Self-touching gestures; "Am I still in one piece?"
c. Frown; "I don't want that…"
d. Hand-behind-head; "I don't like it."
e. Side-to-side head-shakes "No."
f. Sideward head-tilts; "I don't want that…"
g. Lip-pout, lip-purse, and tense-mouth expressions "That looks like it tastes bad."
h. Palm-up gestures; "I surrender."
i. Shoulder-shrug; "Don't touch me."

Men will rub their chins with their hand, tug at the lobes of their ears, or rub their forehead or cheeks or back of the neck, in reaction to the increased tension. Male college students express uneasiness by changing their sitting posture to a more direct body orientation. "I'm going to defend myself."

Women will put a finger on their lower front teeth with the mouth slightly open or pose a finger under the chin. "See? I have no fangs, I am not a predator." Female college students show uneasiness by sitting still and arm-crossing. "Don't touch me."


SUBMISSION
Acknowledgment, Compliance, Surrender

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a. Turning away "No thank you."
b. body-bend, body-shift, and bowing "Please don't…"
c. displacement cues "How did THIS happen?"
d. facial flushing; Blood rushing to enhance the senses: hearing, sight, taste, smell. ; Blood rushing to enhance the senses: hearing, sight, taste, smell.
e. freeze reactions "Am I in danger?"
f. gaze-down; "I am not a threat."
g. give-way; "I will not challenge you."
h. head-tilt-side; "Don't…"
i. Mimic of superior's body movements "I will not challenge you."
j. laughing; "I will not challenge you."
k. palms-up; "I surrender."
l. exaggerated personal distance; "Don't touch me."
m. pigeon toes; "I can't chase you, I am not a threat."
n. shoulder-shrugging; "Don't touch me."
o. shyness; "Don't notice me."
p. difficulty gazing directly at, or cross lines of sight with, a dominant individual. "I don't want to challenge you."
q. higher vocal pitch "I'm weak, and helpless."
r. yawning; "No fangs, see? I am not a threat."

(Note the considerable overlap between expressions of submission and fear.)


DOMINANCE
Influence, Power, Control

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a. Eyebrow raise; "Are you challenging me?"
b. Hands-on-hips posture; "I'm ready for battle."
c. Head-tilt-back; "I dare you to bite me."
d. Palm-down gesture; "Do I need to strike you?"
e. Swagger walk; "I'm stronger than you."
f. Table-slap; "I will strike you!"
g. Lower tone of voice, close to a growl. "Don't make me bite you."
h. Wedge-shaped Chest expansion, squaring of shoulders; "I'm bigger than you."
i. Direct stare; "I consider you a threat."
j. Looming with chin down; "I will bite you."

Aggressive behaviors include the head brought forward toward another person, chin out and pushed forward, wrinkled skin on the bridge of the nose, and a sharp movement of the head towards the other person, as though in preparation to bite.

The Business Suit
Built-in Aggression

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The business suit allows a powerful, influential 'wedge-like' silhouette for business and public affairs.

Exaggerated Chest expansion, squaring of shoulders Strength cues are tailored into every Brooks Brothers® suit. The coat's squared shoulders exaggerate the size and strength of the upright torso. Flaring upward and outward, lapels enhance the illusion of primate pectoral strength. Dropped to fingertip level, the jacket's hemline visually enlarges the upper body to gorilla-like proportions. Pads and epaulets cover inadvertent shrugs and slips of the shoulder blades, to mask feelings of submission or uncertainty in the boardroom--or on the battlefield.


LOVE
Affection, Devotion, Attachment

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a. Physical contact, including hugs and kisses. "I like you."
b. Increased breathing rate; "I want to smell you."
c. Courtship behavior; "I want to make love to you."
d. Direct gaze with wide pupils; "I find you pleasing to look at."
e. Facial flushing; blood rushing to enhance the senses: hearing, sight, taste, smell.
f. Head-tilt-side; "Do I have your attention?"
g. Increased heart rate; to enhance the senses: hearing, sight, taste, smell.
h. Mimic of behavior and/or appearance; "We make a set, we belong together."
i. Softened tone of voice; "If you want to hear what I say, come closer."
j. Closing personal distance; "I want to touch you."


Summary of common Facial Cues.  
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1. Nose:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a) nostril flare; "Oh that scent!" (arousal, rivalry)
b) nose wrinkle; (disgust)

2. Lips:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a) grin (happiness, friendship, contentment)
b) grimace (fear)
c) lip-compression (anger, emotion, frustration)
d) canine snarl (disgust)
e) lip-pout (sadness, submission, uncertainty)
f) lip-purse (disagree)
g) sneer (contempt)

3. Brows:
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a) frown (anger, sadness, concentration)
b) brow-raise (intensity)

4. Tongue:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
tongue-show (dislike, disagree)

5. Eyelids:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a) flashbulb eyes (surprise)
b) widened (excitement, surprise)
c) narrowed (threat, disagreement)
d) fast-blink (arousal)
e) normal-blink (relaxed)

6. Eyes:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
a) big pupils (arousal, fight-or-flight)
b) small pupils (rest-and-digest)
c) direct-gaze (affiliate, threaten)
d) gaze cut-off (dislike, disagree)
e) gaze-down (submission, deception)
f) CLEMS* (thought processing) This is an acronym for "Conjugate Lateral Eye Movement." When the eyes move sideward (to the right or left) in response to a question. Rightward movement is associated with symbolic thinking, or Memory, (what we KNOW,) while Leftward Movement is associated with visual thinking, or Creativity, (what we INVENT).


In conclusion...
-- Don't just SAY it. SHOW IT!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Skip the dialogue "he said / she said" tags altogether by using Body-language cues and ACTIONS to SHOW what the characters mean when they say: "I love you."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I love you too." She rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically. "Oh yes, I truly do love you."
"I love you too." She dropped her chin and pouted. "Oh yes, I truly do love you."
"I love you too." She glared straight at him. "Oh yes, I truly do love you."
"I love you too." She turned away and wiped the tear from her cheek. "Oh yes, I truly do love you."
"I love you too." She raised her balled fist and smiled with bared teeth. "Oh yes, I truly do love you." She thrust up her middle finger.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Enjoy!

Reference:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Center for Nonverbal Studies (CNS):
center-for-nonverbal-studies.o…

Looking for more of my Writing Tips & Tricks?
The Non-Verbal Thesaurus

Dialogue is VISUAL
-- Not just a bunch of words.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Watch the average conversation between two people. 90% of that conversation isn't in what's Spoken, it's in what they are DOING while they are speaking. It's in their Body Language. Body-language cues in your story alert the reader by SHOWING them what is going on in a character's head without Telling them, and without resorting to using the most often repeated word in fiction: said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I love you too." She raised her balled fist and smiled with bared teeth. "Oh yes, I truly do love you." She thrust up her middle finger.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.
Published:
© 2010 - 2021 OokamiKasumi
Comments858
anonymous's avatar
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Imiss2010's avatar
What if you are copying a character from a movie and you can't find anything in the non-verbal thesaurus that matches some of their body language, or you just can't describe their body language period? What do I do then? Also I clicked the link to the non-verbal studies and the non verbal dictionary is gone.
OokamiKasumi's avatar

The non-verbal dictionary is gone? Damn... I'm glad I got as much as I did and posted it so the info wasn't completely lost.


If you're borrowing a movie character, then all you need to do is Watch that character and note the body-language they use. Seriously, grab a notebook and write down what you see, so you can use it in your story.

SpiralGalaxis's avatar

Their URL changed or something, but it still exists. Here:


http://center-for-nonverbal-studies.org/htdocs/6101.html

OokamiKasumi's avatar

Thank you SO MUCH! 💖

1st-Hashirama-Senju's avatar
Hi, hope you are doing well! :)

I want to ask some things, I had read the comments before this one to see what people said-

Is it possible to overdo it with body language descriptions? I think if one were to, that might be a sign of nothing important happening in the story or too slow pacing, not sure.

If one has to use dialogue tags, is it a sign nothing important is happening in the story or that your story pacing has slowed too much? Since it sounds like it.

And while I have improved, I feel like I need more practice with dialogue and body language. So I wonder, is a good way to practice is to use dialogue and body language heavy stories? I have some ideas in mind related to Naruto and members of the Konoha 12 (and Sai). :) (I think, as I have seen elsewhere in the comments, that the fact I am on the autism spectrum means body language might be a bit harder, but won't give up :) )

Thanks in advance! Your writing tips have always been helpful! :)
OokamiKasumi's avatar

I'm glad you enjoyed my tutorial!

-- Anything can be overdone.

The over-use of dialogue tags usually means that the writer isn't imagining their story Visually. They're not picturing the scene clearly in their minds and writing what they SEE. It can also mean that the writer is in a hurry to get to something else, so they blow through the dialogue without bothering to build the background scene where the dialogue is supposed to be happening.

1st-Hashirama-Senju's avatar

:)


Thanks! I understand better now. Writing is all about the balance then, correct?

OokamiKasumi's avatar
Correct!
 -- However, just to make things a tad more confusing; what that Balance is -- is all in the eye of the Writer!
1st-Hashirama-Senju's avatar

Thanks!


I have listened to constructive criticism when some people pointed out that my descriptions were way too clunky and didn’t flow with the story (basically not balanced...), I fixed the descriptions to the best of my ability. One needs to practice, and listen to the constructive criticism they can use, to get better at writing. :)

OokamiKasumi's avatar

A good Thesaurus helps me with description.

-- 98% of what I write is Smut. There's only so many ways to describe that sort of action before it gets ungodly repetitive. If I'm not careful with the word-choice the whole scene can get Boring all too quickly.

1st-Hashirama-Senju's avatar

Thanks! :)


True, using the same words and exact same descriptions over and over gets boring fast…


I have a link to Thesaurus.com in my computer favorites, it is very helpful. Need to use it more though.


And I am wondering, since you mentioned word choice, are you going to do a writing advice page on word choice in the future? It might go hand-in-hand with something else you’ve already written though but was just wondering. :)

OokamiKasumi's avatar

You know, posting an essay on 'word choice' is a good idea. I'm going to think about that one.

View all replies
woohooligan's avatar
Nice list. :D

There are a couple others for tongue.
:bulletblue: Touching the tongue to the upper lip is used to seduce (never seen a guy do this, not that they couldn't)
:bulletblue: Biting the tongue is something some people do when concentrating - Ang does it in the pilot episode of Avatar: the Last Airbender. There's a theory that this helps reduce distraction. www.sciencefocus.com/qa/why-do…
OokamiKasumi's avatar
Thank you!
 -- Those are good suggestions.
Oh-windrunner's avatar
This is so useful for me! I have understood for a while that body language should be speaking just as loud as the voice (my mom is an English teacher...sometimes I don't know how to respond to her proofreads, but they shine through more often than not), but since I have a non-verbal learning disability, I find it difficult to comprehend what the correct action would be to convey what the character is truly trying to get across. Hopefully now I'll be able to add some dimension to them and have a better understanding myself of what is actually going on with the story.
OokamiKasumi's avatar
I'm glad you liked the essay!
 -- People-watching will also help. Especially if you are far enough away to NOT hear them. The idea is to Guess what's going on in their heads just through observation. I usually do this in the food court of a mall, but any place where you can sit and observe a lot of people that you Can't Hear will work. If they're too close, an MP3 player and headphones will work too.
Oh-windrunner's avatar
Thank you so much! I will definitely add people-watching to my resources. School will probably be a good place to start practicing this, considering that even when you can hear the conversation it makes no sense.
OokamiKasumi's avatar
That sounds like an excellent idea!
1st-Hashirama-Senju's avatar

This is extremely helpful.


And do you know of a website which can be used to find meanings behind names, etc? Because I write Naruto stories, and names that are Japanese are more accepted as OC character names and also I would like to create some new things to flesh out the world. Because I had some in mind but I would like to make names that would fit. And there are some unnamed but important ninja in the series that I would like to give names to, names that would fit.


Thanks in advance.

OokamiKasumi's avatar
I'm glad you liked my essay!

For Japanese names, I use: Behind the Name Japanese Names
AELawless's avatar
I skimmed through most of the comments and didn't see anyone ask this question, so I hope I'm not repeating, but. The gestures I find myself repeating most are gestures of annoyance/exasperation/irritation. Some of your anger and disgust gestures could be adapted but are too strong in most cases. In particular I find myself repeating rolling of the eyes, snorting, grunting, and sighing. Do you have some suggestions for other non-verbal cues that I can use for some variety?
OokamiKasumi's avatar
The gestures I find myself repeating most are gestures of annoyance/exasperation/irritation. ...  In particular I find myself repeating rolling of the eyes, snorting, grunting, and sighing. Do you have some suggestions for other non-verbal cues that I can use for some variety?
 -- I suggest watching Movies and studying how the characters portray the emotions you're looking for. There are a Lot of subtleties to each of those gestures, normally signaled by the rest of their body's movements; hand gestures, head tilts, leg shifts, and seating adjustments, to name a few. Also, watch the people around you and look closely at their body language when they talk. You're sure to get lots of new cues just from that alone.
anonymous's avatar
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