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How to Show (Not Tell) an Emotion–S to Z

1218592_puppy_cockerEmotions 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:


  • bowing postures of the body wall
  • cry face and lip-pout
  • gazing-down
  • slumped (i.e., flexed-forward) posture of the shoulders
  • audible sigh
  • drooping eyelids
  • flaccid muscles
  • hanging head;
  • contracted chest;
  • lowered lips, cheeks, and jaw (“all sink downwards from their own weight”)
  • raised inner-ends of the eyebrows
  • remaining motionless and passive
  • acute sadness, muscles of the throat constrict, repeated swallowing occurs, the eyes close
  • facial signs include frowning eyebrows mouth pouted or compressed


  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Angry outbursts.
  • Forgetfulness.
  • Low energy level.
  • Constant worrying.
  • Propensity for mistakes.
  • Thoughts about death or suicide.
  • Trouble getting along with others.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Hiding from responsibilities.
  • Carelessness
  • I find it difficult to concentrate because of distracting thoughts.
  • I worry about things that don’t matter.
  • I feel jittery.
  • I get diarrhea.
  • I imagine terrifying scenes.
  • I cannot keep anxiety-provoking pictures and images out of my mind.
  • My stomach gets tense.
  • I pace up and down nervously.
  • I am bothered by unimportant thoughts running through my mind.
  • I become immobilized.
  • I feel I am losing out on things because I cannot make decisions fast enough.
  • I perspire.
  • I cannot stop thinking worrisome thoughts.
  • Become irritable when you have to wait in line or get caught in a traffic jam?
  • Eat, drink, or smoke in an attempt to relax and/or relieve tension?
  • Worry about your work or other deadlines at night and/or on weekends?
  • Wake up in the night thinking about all the things you must do the next day?
  • Feel impatient at the slowness with which many events take place?
  • Find yourself short of time to complete everything that needs to take place?
  • Become upset because things have not gone your way
  • Tend to lose your temper and get irritable?
  • Wake up in the night and have a hard time getting back to sleep?
  • Drive over the speed limit?
  • Interrupt people while they are talking or complete their sentences for them?
  • Forget about appointments and/or lose objects
  • heart beats faster.
  • pain in the neck or shoulders, or headaches


  • a blush especially low down the body does the blush extend


  • Frowning
  • Twitching eyelids
  • Breathing rapid, irregular
  • Mouth tight
  • Swallowing
  • Be aware of nervous gestures:
    • If someone brushes their hair back with their fingers, their thoughts conflict with yours.
    • If someone is biting their lip, they are anticipating something


  • The wider the gesture. The closer someone is to you, the warmer his opinions of you.
  • Watch head position. tilted heads are trying to convince you of their honesty
  • The worst thing that you can do to people with crossed arms is to challenge them in one way or another. This annoys them. If someone rests their arms behind their neck, they are open to what is being discussed.
  • Lowered eyebrows and squinted eyes illustrate an attempt at understanding. It’s usually skeptical.
  • Forced smiles only involve the muscles around the mouth.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

12 thoughts on “How to Show (Not Tell) an Emotion–S to Z

  1. Pingback: How to Show (Not Tell) an Emotion–A to D | WordDreams...

  2. Pingback: How to Show (Not Tell) Emotion–E to O | WordDreams...

  3. Pingback: 70 Collections to Infuse Your Writing | WordDreams...

      • It’s up and working (because it’s raining and there’s no water in the place) 😀

        One thing I realised after I commented is that I usually give a character a trait for showing not telling. An example is in The Everything Theory where my main character rubs a mole on his chin when he’s nervous. I only had to to mention this once in the beginning of the story. This way the reader knows all through the story what he’s feeling when he rubs that mole. It seems to work very well. 😀


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