Thursday, March 18, 2010

Survey: How Do You Show Characters' Emotions Thru Facial Expressions and/or Body Language?

Authors, we each possess our own style of describing emotions. I seem to be stuck in a rut, overusing "arched eyebbrows" for surprise, a "furrowed brow" for worry, and "pursed lips" for thinking.

Will you share the facial expressions and body language you use for the emotions below? I believe this list will help us as writers to add depth to our stories. Feel free to add extra emotions I may have overlooked.

Answer all or only what you want to. This list reminds me of the names of The Seven Dwarfs. (Except I have Eight) LOL

How do you portray the following emotions? Let the input begin!

1. Anger

2. Amusement

3. Attraction

4. Fear

5. Joy

6. Pain

7. Peace

8. Sadness


Clare Revell said...

hmmm, okay...

1. Anger.
Peter slammed the door so hard it shook in its frame. He folded his arms tight across his chest and scowled. "Don't you ever do that again."

2. Amusement
Jane smirked, trying to hide the giggle behind her hand.

3. Attraction
Butterflies danced in her stomach and her legs refused to hold her up anymore.

4. Fear
Her stomach knotted and her heart pounded in her throat, echoing in her ears. Shivers ran down her spine.

5. Joy
Her eyes lit up and her heart swelled so much she thought it would burst from her chest.

6. Pain
His face creased and unwanted tears filled his eyes.

7. Peace
umm yeah, not sure.

8. Sadness
Tears cascaded down her face like a waterfall and her lips quivered. Writhing her hands, she fell to her knees, shaking and sobbing.

Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi Laurie, Loved Clare's answers!
Here's my list:
1. Anger - tight-lipped, a glare, clenched fists, rigid stance, hurling glassware, shrieking with rage, muttering dire prophecies under the breath
2.Amusement - Twinkling eyes and a hidden smile, choked back laughter, a wide grin, ear to ear smile, a quirk of the lips, a knowing gleam in the eyes
3.Attraction - long, lingering glances, delicious shiver up the spine, warmth floods her face, nervous nibble of the lips, a hand left on her shoulder too long, leaning toward each other
4. Fear - Drawing back, a knotted fist to the mouth, eyes wide and haunted, goosebumps feathered her arms, total stillness, a stifled squeak, shaking uncontrollably, trembling hands
5. Joy - a satisfied smile, shining eyes, laughter bubbling up, spin around with arms lifted to the skies, dance in place, an enthusiastic shout, burst into song, hum beneath her breath, whistle happily
6. Pain - grimace, moan and groan, clenched jaw, whimpering, pale and shaking, gnawing on her lower lip, clutching his lapel (or sleeve) tightly, short gasps for air, a curse under the breath
7. Peace - a contented stare, relaxed against the tree trunk, total calm, features relaxed, small smile hovers, slumberous eyes
8. Sadness - A single tear, a darkness filled her eyes, her lips quivered, furrowed brow, dark circles under the eyes and moisture gathers without notice, blink back the tears

How about Disgust? A curled lip, a haughty stare, look down the nose, turn his back
Impatience? fidgeting endlessly, tsking sound, tapping repeatedly, pacing

Miss Mae said...

I thought Clare's were excellent. Here's my shot:

1. Anger
His fist clenched around the screwdriver's handle, his knuckles whitening. Tight-lipped, he snared, "Who the hell told you that?" (with men, there always seem to a "bad" word in there somewhere)

2. Amusement
She tossed her head with a hint of sauciness, a dimpled smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

3. Attraction
A tremor raced her pulse to high gear. For a moment, she wondered if her light-headedness might actually cause her to swoon.

4. Fear
Though her fingertips chilled to where the club fell from her grasp, sweat erupted under her armpits in a small torrent.

5. Joy
Clapping her hands, she shouted at the top of her lungs, "We did it! We won!"

6. Pain
Folding to his knees, he panted for breath, pressing his fist to his chest, and praying that his heart would beat once more.

7. Peace
This time when he gazed upon the tombstone, no fury burned in his soul. Instead, a quiet gentleness calmed his spirit, flowed through his veins, and whispered in his mind, "I'll never leave you. Whenever you think of me, I'll be near."

8. Sadness
Tears pressed behind her eyelids. Catching her bottom lip between her teeth, she cut short the sob that burned at the back of her throat.

Whew, these were a challenge, Laurie. Good thinker throughs, though. :)

Celia Yeary said...

Here goes: ANGER-he stood with his booted feet spread, his arms crossed over his chest, and his nostrils flaring. AMUSEMENT-she pointed her finger at him and smiled--"Aha! Told you so." ATTRACTION: She gazed at him, reached up to twirl a lock of hair, but jerked her hand down before he saw the look on her face. FEAR: She circled her arms around her waist, as she darted her gaze from side to side.JOY: She pumped her fist and laughed. "Yesss!" PAIN: Sucking in a breath, she held it with her eyes clenched and her lips rolled inward. PEACE: An audible sigh escaped, as she leaned back her head and studied the fluffy clouds. SADNESS: She sat at the table, lowering her head on crossed arms to stifle the sobs.This wasn't particularly easy, but it made me think. Good excercise, Laurean.Celia

Nicole Zoltack said...

1. Anger

tight lip, growl, form a fist, narrows eyes

2. Amusement

giggle, laugh, twinkle in eye, snort

3. Attraction

blush, stammer, nervous, touch the other person, lean toward, bite lower lip, stare longingly

4. Fear

eyes wide, goosebumps, run away (flight)

5. Joy

smile, happy glow

6. Pain

contortion, wince

7. Peace

satisfied look, calm, relaxed, smile

8. Sadness

tears, downturn lips

I could probably think of more but these are what popped out at me off the top of my head.

Laurean Brooks said...

Clare, you put a lot of thought into this. Thank you for posting. Your descriptions gave me several ideas I'd not thought of before.

The slammed door, butterflies dancing in her stomach, heart pounding in her throat, heart swelled to bursting.

These are wonderful. I'm going to use them in my WIP. (if I may?)

Laurean Brooks said...

Rebecca, yours answers are creative, too. Thank you.

Your list is so inclusive,you must have "brain drain." I"m glad you added "disgust." The curled lip is a strong visual.

Another one I meant to add was

Can anyone think of something to describe "surprise?"

Someone should write the book, (But who has time?)"The Writer's Handbook of Ways to Portray Vivid Emotions."

Sounds like a Best-seller.

Clare Revell said...

Sure, feel free to use them :)

And surprise would be eyes widened, breath caught in her throat, fingers picked at her necklace.

Laurean Brooks said...

Miss Mae, my favorites of your list were Anger, Pain, Peace, and sadness...if I had to pick ONLY a few. All were very good.

Now, tell us the truth. That scene "he gazed at the tombstone?" Did you pull that from one of your wonderful suspense stories? It is so vivid!

Thank you for posting. I love them all.

Laurean Brooks said...

Celia, you made this entire range of emotions into one vivid scene between a cowboy and his sweetheart. How cool!

Thank you, Celia. But truthfully, I needed help to prevent using the same old visuals over and over. You've all been a big help.

Laurean Brooks said...

Thank you, Nicole. You've helped me out. I especially liked your take on attraction. I hadn't thought of stammering, or leaning in toward each other. Both you and Rebecca mentioned that. And Miss Mae added "swooned."

These are good. Glad you posted. Great job.

Kelly McCrady said...

"Creating Character Emotions" by Ann Hood is a good book on this subject, out since 1998. Margie Lawson also teaches a great class called Enhancing Character Emotions. Many many ways to show various emotions are practiced and exampled (I know, not a word). You could visit the library or internet and study books on body language and non-verbal communication.

Laurean Brooks said...

Thank you, Kelly, for your great suggestions. I'm glad someone has written a book about this. I certainly need one. LOL.

I'll Google the title. I appreciate your input. Have a great day.

Kelly McCrady said...

No, sorry--"Empowering Characters' Emotions" find on

Also "The Dictionary of Nonverbal Communication" is available online--great resource!

Redameter said...

1. Anger:
Deke doubled his fist and banged it on the table so hard it shook the coffee in the cups.

2. Amusement:
He snickered then tried to stifle it before she noticed.

3. attraction:
He took her hand gently in his, if her hand began to sweat she'd die.

4. fear
Inwardly she was trembling like a leaf, outwardly she still presented a calm, although she wasn't sure how.

5. Joy
She wanted to jump into his arms, but she barely refrained herself.

6. Pain
She swallowed hard, tears came into her eyes, but she held them there as she willed herself not to scream.

7. Peace
She sighed heavily, s slow invading smile spread over her face.

8. sadness:
Like a spear aimed for her heart, it pierced her with a deadly calm.

9. Guilt:
She flinched at his remark, knowing she had done it made it twice as hard to admit.

10. tenderness
He stoked her cheek and smiled into her eyes.

11. sympathy
He took her into his arms, and held her for a long time, not saying a word,just holding.

Laurean Brooks said...

Wow, Rita. You've given me a lot more to think about. One of my favorites was your example of sadness. "Like a spear aimed for her heart, it pierced her with a deadly calm." (Did you use this example in a book?)

And you added three more. Your exaple for sympathy is touching. "He took her into his arms and held her for a long time, not saying a word,just holding.

Loved it!

Thank you for posting. This is fun, isn't it?

Shawna Williams said...

Here's mine, but I also added a few emotions not on the list.

Jakob's lungs burned with the need of air, and heat flamed in his cheeks. His nostrils flared, expanding his chest, only for his lungs to seize again.

Jakob had been afraid coming here would depress him, but Meri's curiosity and eagerness to share the experience made him feel like a kid on the playground. She wiped away all of his gloom. He grabbed her hand and pulled her along.

Restrained amusement,
laughter scratched the back of his throat.

Jakob fidgeted in his seat. He looked at the ceiling. He looked at the floor; the wall, window, blackboard -- everywhere except at her.

Her heart jumped into her throat.(This could also be used for fear depending on the context)

The knot in his stomach pulled tighter. Something was wrong.

It felt like tiny bubbles of hot air were bursting beneath her skin. She knew her cheeks had to be blood red.

His brother's eyebrows climbed another inch.

MarthaE said...

As I reader I enjoyed reading all of these wonderfully expressed emotions! Some more emotions popped in my head: Puzzlement, distress, pride.

Ah - I have to sigh just thinking what joy all these emotions could bring to my reading your stories! :o)

MarthaE said...

As I reader I enjoyed reading all of these wonderfully expressed emotions! Some more emotions popped in my head: Puzzlement, distress, pride.

Ah - I have to sigh just thinking what joy all these emotions could bring to my reading your stories! :o)

Laurean Brooks said...

Shawna, thank you for posting. I especially like your rendition of fear and embarrassment. The "knot in the stomach pulled tighter," and "tiny bubbles of hot air.."

Great visuals. You go, Girl!

Thank you for stopping by. These are wonderful!

Laurean Brooks said...

Martha, I'm glad you enjoyed the posts. Thank you for posting. These ladies are soooo creative.

I feel humbled after reading these visual emotions. " Gulp."

Isn't it amazing how many different variations they came up with?


Laurean Brooks said...

Thanks, Kelly. I will check those out.

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Laurie, great blog! So many excellent responses I don't think I have anything to contribute. These comments sure inspire me to work more on emotion in my wips.

Gail Pallotta said...

Hi Laurean,
Thanks for doing this. These are great! The only one that comes to mind that I could add is for anger:
He pressed his lips so tight they nearly made a straight line.
I'm going to print these to have handy.

Laurean Brooks said...

I know what you mean. I would never have thought of all these wonderful visuals!

These ladies are talented!

Thank you for dropping by. Drop by any time. Love visitors.

Laurean Brooks said...

Gail, I like your addition for "anger"-- lips pressed together to form a thin line.

Like you, I will be using these suggestions. So many! Where do you start? LOL

Thank you for dropping in. You come back, now, you heah?

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Better late than never I guess, but I was ill yesterday and didn't get online at all.

Here goes....

Anger: Slapping his palms down on the desk, he pushed the chair back with such force it toppled, the crash intercepted by the window frame behind his desk. A low growl sounded in his throat.

Amusement: He managed to swallow the next spurt of mirth before it spilled out of his mouth and force a measure of solemnity to his voice. “Only at your tone of voice, honey."

Attraction: The way her name rolled off his tongue made tiny shivers dance along the nerve endings around her heart.

Fear: Thunder rumbled like eerie laughter. Lightning crashed. The electricity flickered. She all but jumped out of her skin. Terror gripped its icy fingers around her heart.

Joy: She burst through the door, her excited chatter no more than incoherent ramblings.

Pain: The anguish in her voice pierced him like a splinter in the heart.

Peace: The images stopped, emotions untangled. Peace reigned in their wake.

Sadness: He sighed and wiped the moisture off his cheeks.

Guilt: Her gaze searched his. Tears sprang to life, spilled down her cheeks. “I swear I didn’t know he was married.”

Tenderness: She smiled and brushed the consternation off her daughter’s face with a tender caress then gave her a hug.

Sympathy: The anguish in his voice sluiced through the last vestiges of doubt in her mind. She covered their joined hands with her other palm.

Embarassement: The humor in his voice should have angered her but made her feel small instead. Her chin jutted in defiance, eyes narrowed.

Shock: He reared back as though slapped, a stunned expression on his face. His breath heaved in and out in harsh pants. “Oh, my God,” he muttered and rolled his eyes heavenward. “You’ve got to be kidding, Lord.”

Great exercises for thought and great examples!

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Here's my list.

1. Anger- His hands fisted in his pockets and a small vein throbbed over his eyebrow.

2. Amusement- He crossed his arms and a smile quirked his too sensual mouth.

3. Attraction- His gaze locked with hers and all he could do to keep from dragging her down to his lap...

4. Fear- Alarm came into her eyes, and she took a step back.

5. Joy- She closed her eyes and her lips curved into a smile as she leaned back into him.

6. Pain- Sweat glistened his brow and he tried to speak but only a groan escaped his lips.

7. Peace-She leaned back against the chair and breathed a sigh of contentment.

8. Sadness- She paced the room as tears streamed down her face.

Laurean Brooks said...

Pam and Karen, Just when I thought all the visuals had been used! You ladies amaze me! Thank you for stopping by and taking time to post your examples.

I will be using these awesome visuals in my writing. You knew I had an ulterior motive, huh?

Thank you, again. Doesn't matter that you were late. Hey, it was worth the wait.

Delia Latham said...

My answers are a little lengthy ... I apologize. I borrowed from my recent release, Yesterday's Promise - all except the last two. Here goes:

1. Anger
He stopped dead still, and his gray eyes took on an icy glitter. Hannah gasped, shocked and a bit frightened as strong fingers gripped both of her arms in a steel grasp.
“Any man can father a child,” His lips whitened, and she shrank from his sudden hot anger. “That’s the easy part. Davey’s a great kid, but you’ve done that all by yourself – no thanks to the scum who fathered him.”

2. Amusement
He threw back his head and roared with laughter. Shocked and relieved, she giggled. Brock continued to hoot delightedly, and she chuckled. And suddenly they were both laughing so hard they could barely breathe.

3. Attraction
“Okay.” Brock hesitated, then placed both hands on Hannah’s shoulders. Her eyes widened and she caught her lower lip between her teeth. He desperately wanted to pull her into his arms and beg her to stay. Instead, he touched his lips to her forehead. “Good night, Hannah. Have a safe trip.”

“Good night,” she whispered. In the dim light of the hallway, her hazel eyes had gone smoky green, and her face was too pale.

He forced himself to walk away, frustrated and helpless.

4. Fear
A man dressed in solid black dismounted a huge Harley-Davidson motorcycle and reached up to remove a shiny black helmet.

God, were you even listening? I asked for someone I can trust! Hannah’s heart set up an erratic pounding that echoed inside her head. Darkness threatened her vision as blatant terror overwhelmed her. ... He tapped on the window and Hannah cried out, dismayed to find tears stinging her eyes.

5. Joy
A moment later, they raced down the road, and Hannah found herself laughing aloud at the sheer joy of it. The sense of freedom was overpowering, with the wind on her face and buffeting her arms and legs where Brock’s body did not shield her own. She wished the helmet weren’t in the way, so she could feel her hair flying in the wind.

A broad grin claimed her face, and she rolled her eyes, grateful Brock could not see her being an idiot. She lowered her helmeted head to rest on his broad back. Good thing Daddy can’t see me now!

6. Pain
Covering her face with her hands, Hannah allowed the hot tears to fall unchecked. She made no attempt to deny her pain, but allowed it to wash over her in a great, overwhelming flood. Sobs wracked her body, ripping at her insides in painful, slamming waves. Her stomach churned, and she gagged. Darkness pushed at her vision, and she fought it, unwilling to lose consciousness at the side of the highway.

7. Peace
She sat there in her bright red Mustang at the side of a winding mountain road, waiting on God. And gradually, just as she knew it would, His peace washed over her. He did not sweep in like a flood and remove the hurt. Happiness didn’t fly in on angel’s wings. Her heart still felt battered, her emotions tumultuous. But strength eased over her body, and God’s peace filled her heart. She could go on now, strong enough to deal with the pain, allow it to heal, and learn from it whatever God wanted to teach her.

8. Sadness
Clarence wasn’t sure what he expected. Sobs, screams, denial, even anger. What he did not expect was the sudden stillness that enveloped the two of them. They sat in utter silence as Jack Kelly’s wife accepted yet another devastating blow to her heart.
She seemed to shrink before his eyes, folding into herself. Tears raced each other down her colorless cheeks, yet she made not a sound for the longest time. Finally she fixed Clarence with dull blue eyes and spoke, chilling him to the bone.
“God has forsaken me.”

9. I think someone mentioned sympathy?

A giant hand wrapped itself around Ryann’s heart and squeezed. She wanted to tell Amy to stop, she’d heard enough, but she couldn’t find the breath to speak.

Laurean Brooks said...


All I can say is Wow! And where's the rest of this book? These are great. Thank you for these wonderful visuals.

I appreciate you taking time to stop and post. This took a lot of effort. Thank you again. Stop by any time.

Delia Latham said...

Thank you, Laurean! Yesterday's Promise is available through White Rose Publshing, in e-format only. Goldeneyes can be ordered through or your local bookstore.

I enjoyed taking part in your survey - great idea! (BTW, I also printed off all the wonderful answers for future reference...)


Danielle Thorne said...

Sometimes I use dialogue to express emotion. I have the character say something--and don't even have to use any -ly words after he/said/she/said, because the words say it all. Sarcasm is the easiest, I suppose, but it's a method for when I am speeding right along and that way I can use physical descriptions, elsewhere, kind of balancing it, you know.

Laurean Brooks said...


Thank you for the information on your wonderful reads. I'm working on a list of books to request for Mother's Day. Skip the flowers. Give me a good read instead. LOL

We will both be using this list. Printing this out will prove to be a smart move.

Laurean Brooks said...


I didn't realize until you mentioned dialogue, that I use it for emotions, too. Hm-mmm. Maybe I've sweated over this too much, when all the time I've been portraying emotions thru speech. I believe dialogue is one of my strong points.

Thank you for your enlightening comments.

prashant said...

The slammed door, butterflies dancing in her stomach, heart pounding in her throat, heart swelled to bursting.
data entry work from home

Laurean Brooks said...

Thanks Prashant! Great visual descrption. Glad you dropped by and added something new to the mix.

Loved it!

Anne Patrick said...

Hi Laurie,
I've given your blog the "Creative Writer" Blogger Award. You can pick it up at my blog:

And thanks for dropping by my interview with Sharon today.