Emotion Thesaurus: Shock/Surprise

When it comes to emotion, sometimes we need a brainstorming nudge. After all, each character will express their feelings differently depending on their personality, emotional range, and comfort zone. We hope this short, sample list of expressions will help you better imagine how your character might show this emotion!

If you need to go deeper, we have detailed lists of body language, visceral sensations, dialogue cues, and mental responses for 130 emotions in the 2019 expanded second edition of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression.


· A small yelp, gasp, squeal, or scream
· Tingling skin
· A heavy feeling in the stomach
· A stiffening posture, rigid muscles
· A sudden coldness (dread) that hits at the core
· Reaching up a hand to lightly clasp the throat
· Splaying the fingers out in a fan against the breastbone
· Pulling books or another object tight against chest
· Eyes that water, shine, or form tears
· A sudden onset of anger or frustration (swearing, screaming, acting violent)
· A shaky voice–soft, halting, disbelieving
· Asking simple questions for clarification: who, when, why?
· A feeling of disorientation, dizziness, euphoria
· A shaky or slow smile that builds as the surprise sinks in
· Grabbing someone close by for comfort
· Giving a quick bark of laughter…

Win your readers’ hearts by tailoring your character’s emotional responses so they’re compelling, credible, and realistic.

If you struggle with writing emotions, you aren’t alone. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression has helped writers all over the globe, and it can help you. To find out more about this bestselling book, please visit our bookstore.

Prefer the flexibility of instant online access and greater searchability?

The Emotion Thesaurus is also at our sister site, One Stop for Writers. Visit the Emotion Thesaurus Page to view our complete list of entries.

TIP: While you’re there, check out our hyper-intelligent Character Builder that helps you create deep, memorable characters in half the time!




Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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4 months ago

Your tips helped me write a perfect composition to win 1st prize for the Primary Composition Writing Competition! Thank you so much1 Hope I can share my prize money with you!


[…] simple questions to clarify […]

3 years ago

Mrs Ackerman can I send you an e-mail? I need your help with my writings desperately


[…] Emotion Thesaurus: Shock/Surprise: this article is from the site “Writers Helping Writers.” They have multiple “emotion thesauruses” to help you out! They also suggest tailoring responses to your character. […]

4 years ago

I’m 16 years old and I want to be a writer after I finish school! This thesaurus is absolutely amazing! It helps me a lot! 🙂

5 years ago

This is an amazing resource. Thank you very much.
Even though I write in Portuguese, I’ve been using this thesaurus for reference over and over again.

5 years ago
Reply to  Fernando

So glad to hear that you’re finding it useful, Fernando—even if it’s in a different language :).


[…] also can lead to Anger responses, or be paired with Shock. You can combine actions from these emotions to convey an even more accurate […]

Adventures in Children's Publishing

Just used this again and had to say thank you. I put the link to our article covering this and your other thesaurus tools on our new Popular Posts section so everyone can see it. Thanks so much!

Sandra Cox
10 years ago


Most Wanted
10 years ago

I used your blog for my first book… Most Wanted by Mark McHugh (available on Amazon) and I am finding it indespensible for the sequel, which I am now writing.
Happy bursts of screaming, shouting, laughter, squeals, giggles from a devoted fan!

11 years ago

Glad to see you here, Roy!

11 years ago

I made it, finally. Just what I needed ladies, as I try to write a new scene.

12 years ago

These are great. I know I’ll refer back to them often. Thank you so much, both of you!

12 years ago

*stares at Sera phyn*

LOL, thanks. Glad it’s helping!

Sera Phyn
12 years ago

You took the challenge! That’s wonderful! I’m in the middle of my book and people are starting to stare in shock a lot; I needed a reference like this to fall back on. You guys are great! 😀