Don’t Give Me That Look

Raised eyebrow.

Snarling lip.

Clenched jaw.

Trembling chin.

Wide eyes.

Flushed cheeks.

A lot can be said with a shift in expression. A change in mood, a sudden thought, a devious plan. As writers we know what our characters are feeling, but showing those emotions is often easier said than done.

It’s easy to fall on those simple words he was surprised or the dog scared her, but if the context of the story is done well, you shouldn’t need to utter the actual emotion; the facial tics should do it for you.

I’m sure you can recall a time in your life when the look on someone’s face said more than words ever could. The next time you’re facing a scene when the weight of the world rests on your MC’s shoulders and he, and he alone, has the formula that will save the world, use the memory of that real moment to describe how he looks.

Do you have any tricks for describing emotion?

About Melanie Hooyenga

Writer. Designer. Jock. Reader. Wife. Puppy-Mama. SCBWI member since 2015.


  1. Biting her lower lip.

    Twisting her hair with her index finger.

    Dragging her foot back and forth across the pavement.

    Staring down, smiling as she responds.

    Exposing a bit of midriff as she stretches.

    No. No tricks. πŸ™‚

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  3. Jason, I read “Dragging her foot back and forth across the pavement” and thought she was a zombie. Was she holding her foot in her hand at the time?

    Mel, this is a great example of ‘showing’! Sometimes I’m afraid I do this too much. I’ll know for sure when I begin edits.

    Great post!

    • Jen, don’t spoil that with zombie talk. πŸ˜›

      I’m glad this was helpful. It’s easy for me to explain it when I’m not trying to write, but even writing this post I thought of instances in my wip where I could apply my own instructions.

    • I love this point. That’s what I meant about the context of the story. The dialogue, movements, everything should paint the picture for the reader. We shouldn’t have to tell the emotion being felt.

      btw, I always picture raised brows when a character says, “Oh?”

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