Using physical gestures to show a character’s personality and emotions

Character gestures to show emotions and personality
How is this character feeling right now?

It’s a real challenge to find new and original ways of describing gestures in order to get across a character’s feelings and sensations.

So many have been used into clichedom, such as:

  • She tossed her head (haughtily / angrily)
  • He gasped / gaped
  • She clenched her fists
  • He sighed
  • She steepled her fingers
  • He curled up in the foetal position
  • She shrugged

There are also gestures that might be excellent, but take so much explaining and thinking about that they break the flow:

  • She held her hands in front of her body, fingertips touching but hands curved, as if wrapped around a crystal ball (look up pictures of ‘Angela Merkel hand gesture’ to see what I’m getting at)

So I’m always on the lookout for new physical motions and tics that feel fresh but are also immediately understand. Here are a few that I’ve either heard or spotted in movies or series – quite possibly plenty of these should be in the cliche list:

  • She squeezed her wrist
  • He shifted his weight from one foot to the other
  • She rolled her shoulders
  • He clutched both his elbows
  • Her fingers drummed on her lower lip
  • He stood with one foot directly facing her, the other at a right angle to the side (No idea what this means)
  • Her shoulders made a stiff horizontal bar
  • His hands were stuffed deep in his pockets
  • She stood with her legs crossed at the shins
  • He rubbed little circles at the outer corners of his eyes
  • She rubbed her cheekbone, pulling the skin away from her eye and exposing the pinkness of the socket
  • He rubbed at his temples with his thumb and middle finger, pinky sticking out like he was drinking fancy tea
  • She stood curved in the shape of a crescent moon
  • His left cheek twitched

Without any further information, do these gestures feel like they get across how a character is feeling, or something about their personality?

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