characters / descriptors / writers resources

How to Show (Not Tell) Emotion–E to O

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! If you’re looking for an emotion starting with A through D, check out the other installments of this series, How to Show (Not Tell) Emotion:

By the way, these apply to both the character’s Point of View and the individual watching.

Here are some ideas:


  • heart race
  • breathing quicken
  • cheeks flush
  • skin tingle
  • pupils dilate


  • tight muscles
  • cold hands or feet
  • fluttery stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • diarrhea or frequent urination
  • lower pulse rate
  • general feelings of weakness
  • in extreme cases, complete freezing-up
  • paralysis. trembling lips or trembling body, fast heart beat, sweating
  • Fear may show in
  • release of apocrine odor,
  • increase in heart/breathing rate,
  • crouching
  • crying
  • faster eye-blink flashbulb eyes
  • staring eyes with dilated pupils
  • the fear grin
  • tense-mouth
  • hair-bristling, squirm cues,
  • tightened muscle tension
  • sweaty palms
  • throat-clearing
  • an audibly tense tone-of-voice


  • eyes sparkle, with the skin a little wrinkled round and under them, and with the mouth a little drawn back at the corners
  • bring tears into the eyes


  • shrug shoulders
  • elbows turn inwards,
  • extend hands outwards and open palms


  • Listen for a subtle delay in responses to questions. An honest answer comes quickly from memory. Lies require a quick mental review of what they have told others to avoid inconsistency and to make up new details as needed.
  • Be conscious of their wording. Verbal expression can give many clues as to whether a person is lying, such as:
  • Lowered heads indicate a reason to hide something. If it is after an explanation, then he may be lying, unsure if what they said was correct Look into their eyes. Liars will consecutively look at you and look away a number of times.
  • People who look away while you are talking to them are thinking about something else.
  • Using/repeating your own exact words when answering a question
  • NOT using contractions
  • Avoiding direct statements or answers
  • Speaking excessively in an effort to convince
  • Speaking in a monotonous tone
  • Leaving out pronouns (he, she, it, etc.)
  • Speaking in muddled sentences
  • Allow silence to enter the conversation. Observe how uncomfortable and restless the person becomes.
  • Change the subject quickly. While an innocent person would be confused by the sudden shift in the conversation and may try to return to the previous subject, a liar will be relieved and welcome the change.
  • Watch his throat. A person may be either trying to lubricate their throat when he/she lies OR swallowing to avoid the tension built up
  • Watch hands, arms and legs, which tend to be limited, stiff, and self-directed when the person is lying. The hands may touch or scratch their face, nose or behind an ear, but are not likely to touch their chest or heart
  • See if they are telling you too much,


  • a dogged or obstinate expression chiefly shown by the mouth being firmly closed, a lowering brow and a slight frown

Click for the complete list of 69 writer’s themed descriptions.

Copyright ©2022 – All rights reserved.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Savage Land, Winter 2024.


68 thoughts on “How to Show (Not Tell) Emotion–E to O

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  6. Hi, Jacqui, Firstly I thank you for your kind comment, as always, about my After reading the masses of grateful/appreciative comments about your advice to aspiring writers/students, I can see that you provide what is needed and I can only salute you .

    Liked by 1 person

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  10. Thanks! This really helps, but I’m wondering how you would describe unease in writing. Not fear exactly, but a sense of something being just… off, you know? And not just shivers up the spine, but more. Does that make sense? Anyway, thanks for the oversight into fear. Fear is pretty close to unease, so I can make do if you can’t some up with anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. hi wonderdreams i’m 12 and you have helped me a lot with this article THANK YOU but i need more advise how to you use your adjectives effectively

    Liked by 1 person

  12. No, I will not follow your tyrannic rules, but continue exclusively telling emotions, no matter what. Likewise, I boycott any fiction following the excessively evil “show, don’t tell” rule.

    Liked by 1 person

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  17. I detest and avoid all fic tiopn that deliberately shows instead of telling; consequently, I will not be inhibited from telling shamelessly by any of your injunctions.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m just 13 years old and I don’t really understand what is Show, Don’t Tell but with the help of your blog, I can now develop my poor writing skills. Thank You Jacqui.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Show Don’t Tell is very natural. Think about body language–what you see that tells you what’s going on. That’s how you want to write. Showing is action; telling is narrative. Showing involves the reader, pulls them in; telling allows them to sit outside your story, safely observing, investing nothing.

      Liked by 1 person

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  21. If you happen to make another one of these, I’d really like to see the emotion ‘love’ because that’s always been hard for me to write. Thanks, these pages help me a lot ^.^


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    • Thanks, Maria! You’ll be a non-fic writer like me, hunh? Even there, the more interesting the characters, the setting, the more people enjoy the journey. Thanks for your comment.


  23. Thank you Jacqui, writing fiction is a new found coping skill for me and I have found it relaxing to escape to a imaginary world. I often use jounaling as a tool for client’s therapy. Your blog is a tool for me to help clients descibe themselves better in their journals.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Congrats on finishing your program! That’s commendable. I can only imagine the hard work that went into getting that degree.

    You got me thinking, Delilah. What would I write if had a character that just heard her husband would be OK after worrying about him?

    Worry washed over her. Her voice weary but happy. Her voice thick with relief. She blinked, eyes wet. Nodded and stared over his shoulder at nothing; hands shaking with relief, hugged herself and rocked back and forth, her sobs like hiccups, I felt the weight lift from my shoulders; she sang softly to herself, something hopeful in her expression, staring in doe-eyed disbelief, the glow of hope entering her face.

    Hmm… Any other ideas?

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Hi Jacqui, it’s been awhile since I posted any comments to you before today. I’m 48 and will be 49 when I finally graduate with my Master’s of Clinical Social Work this May. I have trouble sometimes describing body language in my clients notes. This site has helped me in both my Internships and in my writing. However, I would like to ask if you have any suggestions on how to describe what a character might see or hear when another character feels relief because they were worried that their husband might get hurt? Thank you for taking the time to read this, I value your advice.

    Liked by 1 person

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