Friends. Writing is difficult. Especially emotions, which are the slightest bit important to make your characters come alive.
At first, you really try to have your cast do interesting things, show interesting body language and have interesting expressions. But then, you slip into that easy repetition. He gave a look. She nodded. They shrugged. Or something unforgivable like ‘he glared at her angrily’ – which you know is a redundancy, because glare pretty much conveys the anger anyway.
And the best part is that you, the author, don’t even notice how often your characters do the same things until a beta reader or editor points it out. Fabulous, right?
Keeping it real and compelling reaction-wise isn’t always simple.
While there are a lot of posts on writing emotions out there, they’re not always comprehensive. Some of them are no more than little teasers for the author’s emotion dictionaries, for sale on Amazon. Free resources are scarce and, honestly, as an indie writer myself, I know that funds can be scarce too.
I’m not working on TPA right now, but I don’t want to stop working on bettering my writing. So, I’ve been researching emotions and plan to do a series of posts on different ways to show them in writing.
Let’s do this.
Angry Body Language and Speech
- Actions that make someone seem larger (usually characters with the fight instinct). Puffed out chest, chin lifted, hands on hips, arms raised, feet spread apart, coming to full height, shoulders straightened.
- Other characters will make themselves smaller (those with the flight instinct). Crossed arms, ankles or legs, shoulders slumping, retreating, tucking the chin to look or glare upwards at the other character.
- Large, rapid movements – the angrier the wilder. Some characters will become reckless in anger.
- Stoic characters or characters who become still when angry can seem to freeze, or their movements will be controlled.
- Some will seem to relax when angry, which is a mocking action that translates to ‘you can’t hurt me, bring it on’ and will probably make the other party angrier (unless they’re also still-angry).
- Some characters will cry, so flicking or wiping away tears with jerky movements, to show frustration.
- Lots of fists. Fists on hips, crossed arms ending in fists or balled fists by the sides.
- Punching or kicking objects or walls, the air or other characters. Slamming doors, throwing or smashing things.
- Raised hands.
- Flat hands cutting through the air or slapping things or characters.
- Rubbing temples, the neck or hands running through hair.
- Grabbing hands: objects, clothing or hair (their own or another character’s).
- Pointing or shaking fingers. Jabbing or pressing a finger to another character’s chest, or flicking the other character.
- Fingers spread like claws.
- Palms held forward in a ‘stop’ sign.
- Covering mouth, especially in disbelieving anger, or when the character is trying not to say something.
- Advancing or invading personal space.
- Spitting when speaking, shouting or mumbling. Hissing through teeth.
- Repetitions of the same phrases. Many people lose the ability to articulate well when angry, while others speak more concisely. Also, timid characters may be braver when angry, so they’ll say things they wouldn’t normally admit.
- Not allowing the other person to speak, interrupting them.
- Belittling and provoking phrases, playing on the other party’s weakness.
- Sarcasm and sarcastic jokes.
- Threats and accusations.
- Some people become clumsier when angry, so knocking things over by accident as they retreat, for example.
- Tensed muscles.
- Gaining colour, especially in the face or neck. Other characters lose colour, usually those who are stoic or still-angry.
- Bulging veins, especially in the neck and face.
- Mocking actions, like sarcastic laughter, rude hand signs (which totally depend on the character’s nationality, since a rude sign in one country won’t necessarily be rude in another), pointing at crotch, turning on another character or stepping closer (which are also ‘bring it on’ kinds of actions).
- Nonchalance. Continuing to do something mundane to annoy the other character, not giving them full attention, shrugging at them, looking at them over a shoulder, waving their words away.
- Surging adrenaline can cause pupils to enlarge, fidgeting (flight instinct kicking in) or sweating.
- Characters may show compulsive behaviour, like cleaning, tidying or checking things to calm the anxiety that comes with anger.
- Submissive characters may constantly apologise, take the blame for the other party’s anger (even if they’re not guilty) or criticise themselves in the argument. Anything to make it stop. They may even let the other person physically hurt them to this end.
Anger in Expressions
- Any kind of refusal to look away, usually with glares. Others will avoid eye contact, especially those who are submissive or disbelieving.
- Sneers, lips pursed or pressed into thin lines, corners of the mouth pointing downward, showing of teeth.
- Some people will also bite down on their lip, tongue or cheeks, as if to contain what they were going to say.
- Gaping or open-mouthed groaning.
- Eyes widening, bulging or squinting.
- Clenched jaw.
- Eyebrows pulling together or raising.
- Upturned or crinkled nose.
- For stoic characters, micro reactions are the key since they won’t show any big emotions (except in extreme cases). Twitching eyebrows or mouth corners, blinking, sniffing or snorting.
- Mocking smiles.
- Children will show the inside of their lower lip and puff out their cheeks.
- Shifting the lower jaw forward.
What Anger Feels Like
- Fast, shallow breathing.
- Heart beating fast.
- Pain between temples.
- Eyes pulsing.
- Ears ringing.
- Stomach stiffening.
- Feeling like heartburn in the throat and diaphragm.
- Feeling hot or cold.
- Feeling nauseated or dizzy.
- Vision swimming or going black/red around the edges.
- The urge to hurt someone or themselves.
- Tight muscles.
- Teeth may hurt with clenching jaw.
- Blood rushing to head.
- The urge to scream or being unable to talk.
- Thick tongue.
- Hoarseness or cracking voice.
- Being unable to move.
- Pent up energy and the need to do physical things, like run or destroy.
Now, folks, it’s time to write some conflict. 🙂 Please feel free to comment if you have any more angry actions to add to the list. You can find all of the posts in the writing emotions series here, there should be a new one every two weeks.
Until next time.