characters / descriptors / writers resources

How to Show (Not Tell) Emotion–E to O

headaches fear

fear or a headache?

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.

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.

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

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