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Writing

How to Describe Posture in Writing: What Your Character’s Posture Means

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

Just like in real life, characters in writing use more than dialogue to communicate. Developing believable characters involves many different aspects of a person, from emotional triggers to tics of the human body. Character posture and body language can say a lot about a character’s physical or emotional state or dictate the type of personality they may have.

Incorporating different postures for specific characters into your character creation process can help define who they are without having to load your story with extra exposition or write a laundry list of traits for the reader to remember. Detailed postures can also help a new character stay memorable.

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How to Describe Character Posture In Your Writing

By describing both the big and nuanced ways your characters appear in your writing, you can paint a more vivid, rounder picture. Different types of posture can affect the body movements of a character and show even more detail about them, conveying more than just how they look, but what they’re feeling as well.

  • Understand basic posture. A character with good posture—someone who stands up straight or sits up at attention—may exude confidence, be a stickler for rules, or be very responsible and disciplined. You can convey a lot about a character by how they move and behave in a good sitting position or standing position. When writing bad posture, slouching or poor sitting posture may be considered disrespectful, and allude to an impoliteness or aloofness about a character.
  • Play against cliché. Once you understand the basics of how body positions can inform personality, you can use this to subvert expectations of a character via their posture by using contrasting traits. For example, a male character may be written as having a strong, physical body type, but always leans back on his heels when arguing, indicating a fear of confrontation.
  • Include context. Your character’s poor posture or reclining body position at home on their couch is different than them appearing that way at a wedding or birthday party. Considering the correct posture at the right times in your writing can make all the difference in how your character is conveyed.
  • Use posture to indicate health or age. Without a character listing their entire medical history, you can get a general idea of their health or physical ability by describing the way their body parts move. A high-energy businessman who normally puffs out his chest suddenly needing to lean on a desk during a meeting might indicate a heart issue or lower back pain due to a recent injury. Knowing this can inform who this person is, or hint at a storyline, plot twist, or backstory that may be relevant later. Posture can also suggest the age of a character—an older man may hunch over when he walks, or a young girl character may suddenly square her shoulders when speaking to adults. Small indicators that point to a larger picture of a character will help the reader envision their existence in your world more clearly.
  • Suggest mood through posture. Muscle tension due to nervousness coupled with various facial expressions—lack of eye contact or the inability to look another character face-to-face—can indicate how a character is feeling without them having to say a word. A character who continuously shifts their body weight between their feet may be anxious or have something they’re hiding. A character who folds their arms across their upper body when asked a question may be acting defensively or not in the mood to socialize. Descriptions like these can help provide the reader with a specific image of a character’s type through your writing.

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