Welcome to part three of the Writing Emotions series! You can check out the others here, and come back in two weeks for the next part.
Today we’re chatting about nervousness and excitement. Since these amount to the same thing in terms of body language, I figured I’d group them. Of course, there are some differences and straight up opposites – excitement warrants more smiling, for example, while nervousness often goes without smiling – but the general jitters are similar enough to cover together.
Excited/Nervous Body Language and Speech
- Pacing (flight). Excited pacing will be more energised and bouncy, and probably a little faster than nervous pacing, which may involve slouching and slower movements.
- Excited characters will use bigger movements, like arms slung wide or hands in the air, while nervous gestures could be smaller and closer to the body, or be jerky and erratic.
- Stepping or swaying from side to side, or shifting the weight from one foot to the other, constantly shifting in a chair or crossing and uncrossing legs. Nervous characters do this to self-soothe (moving from side to side resembles the cradle) while excited characters do this because they have too much pent-up energy.
- Nervous characters may freeze and back away when taken out of their comfort zones. Characters may also momentarily freeze when they receive exciting news.
- Stoic characters will usually hide their nerves/excitement by stillness, so no fidgeting or small, controlled gestures and movements.
- If stoic characters or characters trying to hide their emotions do fidget, it will be in small, unobtrusive motions. For example, they might assume a confident stance with legs spread and a straight back, fingers steepled, but they might rub a thumb over their other fingers in slow motions.
- Grabbing onto someone or something, as if to steady themselves.
- Rubbing the hands on thighs, stomach or butt. Any kind of rubbing is self-soothing, but when the hands are rubbed on clothing, it may be to clean sweaty palms.
- Shaking hands.
- Fidgeting. Tapping fingers or heels, bouncing knees, snapping fingers, twiddling thumbs, straightening clothing etc. In fact, many people subconsciously fidget to hide the fact that their hands are shaking (though some folks do just fidget out of habit).
- As an extension of the point above, sitting on the hands, crossing the arms or sticking the hands under the armpits. Excited characters may also do this when they realise the extra energy is making them hyper, and are trying to calm down a little.
- Both nervous and excited characters might start to subconsciously mirror other characters’ actions, as an attempt to hide or contain what they’re feeling. Eg, someone who was just hired for a job might be super excited, but still needs to look professional, so will start doing what the interviewer does to hide their emotions.
- Touching the face, earlobes, neck, hair and mouth (especially when faced with their romantic interest).
- A hand on the jugular notch (the hollow between the collarbones) or heart.
- Concealing the mouth.
- Hands joined in front of the body is a sign of anxiety and nerves, while hands behind the body are confident. Eg, excited characters will often sit back in their chairs, with their hands behind their head.
- Rubbing or clapping the hands together.
- Crossed fingers.
- Fists. Excited people may pump their fists in the air, while nervous people tend to ball their fists by their sides.
- Crossed arms with hands caressing the arms or sides.
- Biting or picking fingernails.
- Sucking or chewing (self-soothing). Anything from fingers to their own clothing, pencils or hair etc.
- Looking elsewhere for help (to people or objects).
- Looking away. A nervous mother will look in the direction where her child is paying every few moments, while an excited traveller might look at the subway tunnel every now and then while they wait for the train to arrive.
- Looking at someone and looking away every so often, especially if it’s a romantic interest.
- Peeking at someone through the fingers.
- Tucked chin and hanging head for a nervous character, while an excited character’s chin will be lifted and the head is often thrown back.
- Changes in speech that indicate an overactive mind. Stuttering more, pauses, cut off sentences, wrong words, repetitions of words or ideas, using words they wouldn’t normally use, more uhms and ahs. Basically, the character can’t form a cohesive thought.
- Rise in pitch.
- Faster or slower speaking.
- Whoops or other exclamations.
- Giggling or laughing at inappropriate times, or laughing more in general.
- Many sighs. The excited sigh might be paired with a cancelling gesture, like a smile or clapping, while a nervous sigh will be more deflated, paired with slumped shoulders or shuffling feet.
- Swallowing often.
- Smiling. The nervous smile is tight and doesn’t cause the skin around the eyes to crinkle, while excited smiles are wider, maybe with parted teeth and a protruding tongue. Excited characters smile often.
- A stoic character might smile when they think no-one is watching, or bare a small smile to others.
- Twitching mouth.
- Licking the lips.
- Lips pressed together.
- Chewing the lip or biting the tongue/inside of cheek.
- Blushing, the kind that reddens even the ears (especially when faced with a romantic interest). Excited characters are generally more flushed.
- Wider eyes, especially eyes that widen momentarily every so often.
- Dilated pupils.
- Exhaling with puffed up cheeks.
- Flaring nostrils.
- Raised eyebrows.
- Frowning while the face is tilted down.
What Excitement/Nervousness Feels Like
- Fast, shallow breathing.
- As a result of the previous point, you may yawn more.
- Dry mouth OR rush of spit.
- As always, a quick heartbeat.
- Tingling skin, with goose bumps.
- A churning stomach.
- Rigid muscles.
- Excessive sweating, cold sweat.
- The need to move OR the need to be still.
- Chaotic thoughts.
- Nausea or an aching stomach.
- Feeling like you have to urinate.
- Feeling light (excited) or feeling heavy (nervous).
- Feeling energised (excited) or exhausted (nervous).
- Feeling zoned out.
- Being overly aware of another person or a situation.
A last thought – both excitement and nervousness can rub off on other characters and they might begin to act nervous or excited too.
Please feel free to add anything else in the comments!
Until next time.