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How to Show (Not Tell) an Emotion–A to D

Emotions show up on your body in a variety of hand movements, eye twitches, breathing patterns and more. There are so many ways to show what your characters are feeling without boring us as readers by saying, Anabelle felt angry. Yuck! Show me, don’t tell me!

Here are some ideas:


  • cold anger
  • clenching jaws or grinding teeth
  • uncovering the teeth
  • headache
  • stomach ache
  • increased and rapid heart rate
  • sweating, especially your palms
  • feeling hot in the neck/face
  • shaking or trembling
  • dizziness

Emotionally you may feel:

  • like you want to get away
  • irritated
  • sad or depressed
  • guilty
  • resentful
  • anxious
  • like striking out verbally or physically

Also, you may notice that you are:

  • rubbing your head
  • cupping your fist with other hand
  • pacing
  • getting sarcastic
  • losing your sense of humor
  • acting in abusive/abrasive manner
  • craving a drink, a smoke or other substances that relax you
  • raising your voice
  • beginning to yell, scream, or cry


  • Sweaty palms.
  • lip-compression
  • lip-bite
  • tongue-show
  • tongue-in-cheek;
  • hand-to-hand, hand-to-body
  • hand-behind-head hand-to-face


  • the eyes and mouth opened wide, the eyebrows raised


  • frown or wrinkle beneath the lower eyelids


  • covering the mouth with the hands
  • rubbing the side of the nose
  • leaning away from you
  • micro shrug
  • voice pitch increases
  • Liars, he says, use more “negative emotion” words (hurt, ugly, nasty) and fewer first-person singulars


  • Recent Loss – through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, loss of job, money, status, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of religious faith, loss of interest in friends, sex, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed
  • forehead is wrinkled in the middle, but not across the whole breadth, as when the eyebrows are raised in surprise.
  • Change in Personality – sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, apathetic Change in Sleep Patterns – insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, nightmares Change in Eating Habits – loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
  • Fear of losing control- harming self or others
  • Low self esteem- feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me” No hope for the future – believing things will never get better; that nothing will ever change
  • Other things to watch for- Suicidal impulses, statements, plans; giving away favorite things; previous suicide attempts


  • hold body and head erect, square shoulders and clench fists


  • curled upper lip
  • narrowed or partly closed eyes;
  • side-to-side head-shakes;
  • protrusions of the tongue.
  • guttural sounds (“ach” or “ugh”)
  • nose is drawn up and wrinkled
  • sneers or snarls at another


  • throat-clear is a nonverbal indication of doubt

for more emotions (excitement, fear, happiness, helplessness, lying and obstinacy), click here for the next in the series.


12 thoughts on “How to Show (Not Tell) an Emotion–A to D

  1. Pingback: Awesome Resources for Creative Writing: Word Dreams – Andy Peloquin

  2. hello, That was really helpful and got my ideas going…. can you please do some bullet points for for enusiastic feelings; such as, Happy, excited etc…

    Liked by 1 person

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