Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Sympathy/Empathy

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.


· Kind words, a soothing tone
· Squeezing a shoulder or hand
· Crying with the person
· Using clichés (this too will pass, keep your chin up)
· Giving comfort through gifts
· Clumsy attempts to comfort (a weak smile, an awkward hug)
· Fumbling for words, not sure what to say
· Overt patience—sitting and listening intently, ignoring discomforts (cold, rain, heat) just to be there for someone…

Commiseration specifically between guys or male-identifying individuals:
· Saying, Yeah, I hear you, or I feel you man
· A one-shoulder shrug
· Bending closer or leaning in with hands in pockets, asking if he’s all right, if he needs to talk
· A heavy nod
· Listening while participating in another activity
· Offering to take him somewhere—a walk, a car ride, a party
· Offering to avenge the offended party…

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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[…] Conveying Sympathy & Empathy […]

12 years ago

Your emotional thesaurus is a winner. What a wonderful way to help us all to *show* not tell.
Thank you.

12 years ago

Thank you for these wonderful lists. 🙂

12 years ago

Glad it’s helping. Both Becca and I were so frustrated that there was nothing like this on the net that we finally decided to start one.

Please by all means, link! We love links. The more writers we reach, the better.

12 years ago

I agree, I enjoy reading these. The critique posts are great too. If you don’t mind, I would like to add a link to your blog from mine.

12 years ago

I soooo enjoy these posts! I know EXACTLY where to come if I’m having a brain freeze! Thank you, thank you! 🙂


12 years ago

Thanks, Susan!

Susan Sandmore
12 years ago

Nicely done! I love reading these.