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.
· Muttering to oneself tearfully
· A cracking voice
· Rapid, fevered apologies
· A flight response—running away, unable to deal with the consequences
· Paranoia that others know or are passing judgement
· Nervous fidgeting (picking at nails, squirming in chair, a scattered gaze that bounces around)
· Darting glances at the person you have wronged
· Following or stalking the one wronged, trying to convince oneself to confess
· Causing pain to oneself as penance
· Paleness, a harried or haunted look
· Growing steadily reclusive, cutting oneself off from others…
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.
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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!
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
What about how to express guilt through thoughts? I get stuck often trying not to repeat the same line, “Guilt flooded through me,” or “I felt guilty,” or “Guilt ties my stomach/lungs in knots”.
Are there any other ways I could phrase it if I can’t find a way to physically express the emotions like picking nails or averting eyes?
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Yes we definitely want to avoid using the word “guilt” as that’s telling and you want to show. The emotion thesaurus book is much more complete than what you see here – there are 2 pages of cues to describe guilt s o you’ll find lots of help there. If it’s out of your budget right now, see if your library has it as many do. Good luck and happy writing!
Bish Denham says
The Emotion Thesaurus continues to rock!
What do you think of:
There’s also something…something elusive about guilt… what is it -when a teacher in a room with 30 odd younger children can state the crime and the guilt it THERE played out on the face of the kid(s).
Sometimes you can read it on someone’s face (esp. the young kids). But this post made me wonder…what is it? Skin blanching, pupils dilating, frozen type of face?
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