Emotional Thesaurus

July 7, 2013

How do you describe fear? Anger? Glee? Novice writers often make the mistake of giving the reader too much information, including emotions. Sure, if a character is scared the author can say, “Sue was scared.” However, an advanced writer uses action to give us that information as a more dynamic approach.

During a class I’m teaching this summer, my students will choose an emotion (I’ll probably write different emotions on slips of paper and stick them in a hat). Then each will write phrases to describe an action associated with that emotion. Try it!

Here’s an example:


Bite your lip

Shaking knees


Wide eyes

Chattering teeth

Hold your breath


Squeeze eyes shut

Sweaty palms

Grab someone’s arm

Tightening of muscles


Pale face

There are hundreds of emotions to choose from: depression, pride, shame, worry, suspicion, jealousy, irritation, humiliation, love, agitation, embarrassment, and happiness are only a few.

It’s okay to tell the reader that your character is happy, but showing is almost always better. Offer descriptions and actions associated with an emotion, and your writing will come alive.


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