Source: The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, 2nd edition.
DEFINITION: Malicious enjoyment from the suffering or unhappiness of others
PHYSICAL SIGNALS AND BEHAVIORS:
- A sneer, followed by a bark of laughter
- Squinting (from the force of one’s grin)
- Fingers that alternately flex and curl into fists
- The face and neck flushing with pleasure
- Having a wild-eyed look
- Tipping the head back
- An unkind smile spreading slowly over the face
- Pumping one’s fist at the sky
- Chuckling unpleasantly
- One’s chest rising and falling as breaths come quicker and faster
- Rubbing the hands together
- Drawing out one’s words: Would you look…at…that!
- Verbally kicking someone when they’re down: You’ll never fit in here.
- Nodding one’s head rapidly
- Wetting the lips
- Bouncing in place or shifting from one foot to the other
- Seeking to benefit from the situation—e.g., making a bet against the victim
- Looking the person up and down with a disgusted expression
- Standing back and watching with an intense gaze
- Egging on whoever is doing the hurting
- Joining in the attack on the victim
- Slapping one’s hands against the cheeks while the mouth hangs open in mock horror, then pointing at one’s rival and grinning
- Savoring the moment with one’s friends (shaking heads scornfully, giving high fives, etc.)
- Muscles that quiver and shake
- A muscle tic jumping in the cheek, jaw, or neck
- Clapping and jeering
- Asking questions designed to make the person squirm: You did prepare for this, right?
- Mumbling or muttering under the breath: Yeah, do it, or Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
- Crossing the arms so firmly the fingers dig into the biceps
- Squatting down to get on the same level with the victim
- Watching raptly but silently, the fingers steepled in front of one’s mouth
- Relishing a secret’s reveal: Mom, did you know it was Jess who backed into your car last week?
- Not responding to requests for help
- Toying with the victim—e.g., reaching out a hand as if to help, then jerking it back
- Catching the victim’s eye and making a fake “pouty” face
- Talking about the experience later with friends
- A flush of warmth through the body
- Feeling light-headed with adrenaline
- An expansive feeling in the chest
- A heady rush of power; feeling invincible
- A buzzing sensation in the extremities
- Twitchy muscles
- Weakness in the knees as the adrenaline wears off
- One’s focus narrowing on the victim; everything else fading away
- Fantasizing about participating in the victim’s misfortune
- Feeling vindicated (if one had been mistreated by the victim in the past)
- Wanting to continue the feeling of satisfaction by engaging in other harmful activities (trashing a hotel room, vandalizing someone’s car, brawling, etc.)
- Justifying one’s feelings by blaming the victim or recalling their faults
ACUTE OR LONG-TERM RESPONSES FOR THIS EMOTION:
- Yelling oneself hoarse
- Profuse sweating
- Decreased empathy for people in general
- Wanting more (and more extreme) pain for the victim
- Becoming sexually aroused (sadism)
SIGNS THAT THIS EMOTION IS BEING SUPPRESSED:
- A smile that one tries (and fails) to restrain
- Making eye contact with the victim and shrugging with a smile
- Looking away (breaking eye contact)
- Darting glances at others to see their emotional states before reacting
- Positioning oneself so one can witness the mistreatment without being seen
- Claiming to have no knowledge of the situation
- Making passive-aggressive or ambiguous comments: Oh, you poor thing.
- Watching with a stony face that seems to be devoid of emotion
MAY ESCALATE TO: Elation, Hysteria, Vengeful, Vindicated
MAY DE-ESCALATE TO: Conflicted, Doubt, Guilt, Shame
ASSOCIATED POWER VERBS: Bash, bask, belittle, cackle, castigate, cheer, clap, crow, crucify, declare, delight, enjoy, flaunt, gloat, humiliate, jeer, lambaste, lord, mock, preen, pretend, relish, savor, scoff, shout, simper, smirk, sneer, snicker, taunt, titter, torment
WRITER’S TIP: When you’re trying to write a specific character’s emotional reaction to a situation, remember that their core personality traits, past experiences, and deepest fears will steer their actions.
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (Second Edition) is a one-of-a-kind resource that helps writers brainstorm stronger, more compelling descriptions of emotion. Visit this link to view the list of 130 emotions included in this book.