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.
· Making fists
· Waving a hand, “talking” with the hands
· Interrupted or erratic strides
· A need to ask questions, rehash information
· Tightness in the chest
· Speaking through one’s teeth with forced restraint
· Speaking without thought, often leading to regret
· A harried appearance, sweating
· Pleading, bargaining
· Running one’s hands through the hair
· Scrunching up one’s face and then releasing, trying to regain calm
· Clumsiness (slopping coffee, knocking something over, breaking something due to being rushed)
· Restlessness, an inability to sleep or relax
· Replaying a scene or event over and over in one’s mind, obsessing over it
· Kicking at something (a pop can on the sidewalk, a flower, a pebble, a chair)
· Having a tantrum (screaming, body flung down on the floor, kicking, crying)…
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!
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.
Thank you so much for creating this blog! I’m working on my first novel, and often have trouble thinking of just the right ways to portray the emotions of my characters. Therefore I refer to your blog every time I write.
Becca Puglisi says
So glad it’s coming in useful, Cedric. Welcome!
Cedric J. Sims says
for the past few months i’ve been referring back to this site over and over for new ideas and tips about writing. this blog was the reason i started my blog
Cousin Bette says
I looked at this list and lo and behold a picture of my day today!
Thanks so much guys! I think frustration is probably the biggest emotion I tend to use in writing.
Mary Witzl says
This is mine — I get so frustrated so often, especially when I’m writing! Flared nostrils and lips pursed firmly together — don’t forget that one!
As always, thank you again for your emotion thesaurus entries – you make it so easy to “show, not tell”. 😉
I linked over from AW. These lists are great! : ) I’m sure I’ll be visiting them from time to time.
C.R. Evers says
Great list! I’ll be visiting this one a lot!