characters / descriptors / writers resources

What Do Emotions Look Like?

1158075_paper_emotions_-_easeIt is an ongoing test of a writer’s ability, our facility with showing, not telling. Readers don’t want a narrative of how a character feels. And if that emotional character isn’t your Point of View character, you can’t say things like, I felt diminished. I was afraid. If you’re not in that character’s head as the POV, you have to relay their emotions by showing what they look like to an outsider.

Not as hard as it sounds. It’s more of a habit. Start by watching people around you. See what you can tell about what’s going through their minds while they’re not talking. Notice which body parts give them away. It really doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong; what matters is that you notice the changes in their body as their emotions leak out.

Here’s a partial list I use to inspire my creativity when I get stuck. As with all of these lists, don’t use them verbatim; adjust them with your author’s voice, to suit your situations.

And, add your own in the comment section. Share with the rest of the community:

  • Her wounds were superficial, but her anxiety went bone-deep
  • Flimsy feelings
  • Unorthodox personal charm
  • Power player
  • Quiet authority
  • Faceful of bad attitude
  • intellectual myopia
  • looked at me with all the expression of a dinner plate
  • Thoughts were like birds rattling around in a cage
  • Like an emotional sticky tray
  • Like an emotional Venus fly trap
  • I felt weightless and anonymous
  • Youth left waiving from the platform as the rain pulled out
  • Workout clothes, thigh pants, headband, busy look, 2 Starbucks coffees
  • Her face had gone pale, her eyes glassy with fear. Her arms trembled
  • Staring in doe-eyed disbelief
  • anger steaming behind him like coal smoke from a power plant
  • the oppressive reek of excess testosterone that oozes like rank body odor from the kind of man who likes to throw his weight around

For more descriptors for characters and settings, click here.

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. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUBCSG Master TeacherEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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18 thoughts on “What Do Emotions Look Like?

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  9. I saw my mother-in-law walk outside last week and begin to snap the dead branches off a tree. I turned to hubby and said, ‘your mum’s angry about something.’ I was right. She’d just had an argument on the phone woth a relative. It’s amazing how actions sometimes speak louder than words – lol 😀


  10. Hi,
    Unfortunately the link “descriptors for characters and settings” is returning ‘ERROR 404 – FILE NOT FOUND’.
    This is really somthing worth to have.


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