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.
• Uncontrolled shaking
• Risking a different or lesser danger in order to escape
• Holding oneself tight (wrapping the arms around oneself to make smaller)
• High tolerance to pain, not feeling/noticing injuries
• Increased stength, stamina
• Grabbing onto someone and refusing to let go
• Anxiety attacks, pain in the chest, lungs or throat
• Clutching at the throat or chest
• Gasping for air
• A harried, wild appearance
• Thoughts that turn to death or the worst possible outcome
• Copious sweating
• Backing away in quick jerky steps
• Passing out from a stress overload, lack of oxygen, or both…
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.
hi i have another you coud add on to the list ” with tprepadation” you could add this if you do not know trepadation means panic and cortion
BECCA PUGLISI says
Hi, Grace. Thanks so much for this suggestion. One of the toughest parts of writing this thesaurus was figuring out which emotions to highlight. So many of them are similar to one another—synonymous, even—and including all of them would’ve created an enormous book that no one would have been able to afford :). So we had to make tough choices about content. For trepidation, we chose to go with Apprehension; they’re super similar, and we thought the latter was more commonly used and would be easier for readers to find. So you might want to check out that entry. Have a great day!
One more hint for more extreme cases: Research panic attacks. They’re not fun.
Ellen 1213 says
Thanks, this will be great for the brother in my book
Becca Puglisi says
You’re so awesome, Julie. Thanks for the pick-me-up! I hope the entries are actually helping, lol.
Julie Musil says
Just wanted to tell you awesome ladies that I’m revising my ms, and during the first draft I have (see bookshelf muse) whenever I couldn’t figure out how to show an emotion. So now I’m going through it again and using your awesome resource. I just used “panic.” Thanks so much!
Yay! 😀 Thanks I’ve been wanting this one.