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.
Brows drawing together
· Lines forming between the eyebrows
· Head tilting to the side
· Gaze clouding, going distant
· Hands touching the lips, mouth, face
· Glance darting around, head turning, as if looking for answers
· Opening the mouth but not speaking, or opening and closing the mouth several times before forming words
· Swallowing excessively
· Taking a deep breath and letting it out again slowly
· A blank look, a slack expression
· Wilting posture
· Scratching at the cheek, rubbing one’s chin
· Asking for affirmation: “Are you sure?”
· Tapping a fist against the lips lightly while thinking
· Denial—shaking head, repeating “No”, warding someone off
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.
Jeremiah W Thomas says
The Emotional Thesaurus is an excellent reference! I use it all the time because I am terrible at thinking these things up when I write my first draft. I use the “ET” to replace the dumb things that I write. Good share!
I love the ideas on what confusion could look like in a story, thanks for the ideas.
-Bravo, very well done.
Thanks so much for creating this site! You have helped me make many scenes come to life.
These are great!
Although I wish you had examples in all your posts. It would help to get ideas on how to work these gems into the narrative. 🙂
How bout expressions for one who is deep in thought? or for one who just had a light bulb moment?
Oh, the dreaded narrowed eyes. If your characters are going to get whiplash, mine are going to be stuck in a permanent squint. 🙂
Mary Witzl says
I’ve been here before and I think this emotional thesaurus is a great idea.
My characters have a lot of confusion, and my protagonist especially does. So many bitten lips, narrowed eyes, darting glances and — most of all — shaken heads. I’ve got to watch the shaken heads, in fact; at the rate they’re going, they’ll all get whiplash.