Let’s Write Sadness

Picking up from where we left off, we’re talking about sadness or grief today. The topic was suggested to me by someone in the writing group I belong to on Facebook. Love was also suggested and I’ll definitely delve into that one, but I think it might need to be spread over more than one post since love has so many variations. Thank you for the suggestions, though!

Just a general note here. While I did include some things depressed characters typically will experience, please do keep in mind that sadness and depression aren’t the same thing. Many symptoms of depression will also be mentioned in other posts in this series, since depression has so many variables. If you are planning on writing a character that struggles with any kind of mental illness, it’s always a good idea to do some research on that specific illness. Speak to people who suffer from it and bookmark the websites where you got your information for later reference.


Sad Body Language and Speech

  • Drooped posture, shoulders slumped, face turned downwards.
  • Crossed arms, with shoulders pulled together and hands that rub over the arms or sides (a self-soothing motion).
  • Slower movements than usual.
  • Half-formed movements, as if the character doesn’t have the energy for more. Shrugging one shoulder, raising the hand to wave without actually moving it sideways, many sighs, one-word answers, etc.
  • Characters who have been sad for a long time or are depressed might become especially lethargic, quiet and non-committal.
  • Characters with prolonged sadness or depression might also have lost or gained some weight, will probably have dark circles under their eyes and might be more irritable than usual, or fidget a lot. They might not see the point in doing anything.
  • Due to heightened irritability, they might show signs of anger.
  • Prolonged sadness also often results in lowered immunity, so the character might be physically ill. Cough, runny nose, fever, sniffling, etc.
  • Delayed reactions or a shattered attention span, as if the character isn’t fully aware of what’s happening around them.
  • When sitting, the character may use any kind of movement that balls them up to make them seem small: knees pulled up, legs crossed, arms folded on a table and head rested on the arms, etc.
  • When lying down, the character might pull into a ball too (foetal position) OR they might kind of flump down and remain how they fell, as if they don’t have the energy to move.
  • Dragged feet.
  • Some characters might have the intense need to get away (flight). They might run or stomp out of the room, put objects between them and other characters, almost like a shield, or even swat at characters trying to comfort them (fight).
  • Some characters deal best with strong emotions on their own and might not want to be held/comforted. BUT timid or submissive characters might allow it, even if they don’t want it, because intense emotions might lower their will to fight for themselves even more.
  • Someone who is sad but wants to be left alone will turn their torso away from other characters.
  • Most people want to be only around the people they love/trust most when they’re experiencing grief, but some do open up to complete strangers if they have the intense need to be comforted or understood.
  • Needing to be touched or held by other characters. Even characters who are otherwise independent might become clingy when sad. So, reaching out, holding hands, hugging, leaning on others, etc.
  • Difficulty maintaining eye-contact, staring into the distance, often looking down. Stoic characters or characters trying to hide their grief might have an especially hard time of maintaining eye-contact.
  • Stoics or those trying to hide their feelings might also mimic a calm posture: remain upright, arms at their sides and legs slightly spread. If they’re especially good at keeping a calm demeanour, they might even keep their chin raised and force themselves to breathe naturally. So miniature movements that show something is wrong are the key: twitching or trembling fingers, sliding backwards, shifting weight from foot to foot, higher pitch than usual, swallowing, doing things that are out of character, clearing voice, etc.
  • Cancelling gestures show distress and angst, which almost always go hand-in-hand with sadness. Saying no but moving forward, saying stop but not opposing the other character’s actions, saying yes but retreating, etc.
  • Covering the head with hands or arms.
  • Covering eyes with one or both hands, or in the crook of the arm.
  • Tears and crying.
  • Characters experiencing intense grief might fall to their knees, crouch or stand on all fours, then weep with a bowed head. They might also clutch at their hair and yank at it.
  • Rocking from side to side.
  • Wiping nose and eyes.
  • Sniffling.
  • Moaning, mumbling, praying.
  • A toneless, quiet voice.
  • A hoarse, cracking voice.
  • Sad characters will use negative words in speech more often: hate, disappointed, miserable, sucks, etc. They might also use ‘me’ or ‘I’ more frequently.
  • Covering mouth with one or both hands (especially when receiving sad tidings or having to share them).
  • Hands in or near the mouth, chewing nails.
  • Palms pressed together.
  • Hands on their chest, as if to clutch or cover their heart.
  • Retreating a few steps.
  • Head tilted and chin tucked.
  • Allowing hair or clothing to cover their face, looking up at other characters through hair or from the shadows cast by clothing.
  • Characters experiencing intense grief may hold their necks and gasp, as if they’re struggling to breathe.
  • Trembling.
  • Some characters become reckless when dealing with any intense emotion (we talked about this in the anger post too) but characters who have just lost a loved one/pet might become especially reckless and knowingly endanger themselves.
  • Some characters might self-harm, though if you’re writing about this PLEASE DO THE NECESSARY RESEARCH AND WRITE WITH CAUTION.
  • Some characters might turn to alcohol, drugs or other stimulants. But again, research and caution.

Sadness in Expressions

  • Trembling or tight lips.
  • Corners of the mouth turn down.
  • Children will show the inside of their lower lip or puff out their cheeks.
  • Biting down on lips repeatedly.
  • Characters who are disbelieving and sad may gape.
  • Characters who are trying to conceal their grief might smile, but a fake/sad smile won’t light up the eyes or cause crow’s feet to appear, and most fake smiles show the lower teeth.
  • Stoic characters or those trying to hide their feelings will typically show only micro-expressions, so the slight puckering of lips, swallowing (Adam’s apple moving), mouth corners and eyebrows twitching, rapid blinking, slightly raised or tucked chin.
  • Clenched jaw.
  • Outer ends of the eyebrows droop.
  • Inner ends of the eyebrows raise and pull together.
  • Scrunched up nose.
  • Eyes shut heavily.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Puffy eyelids.
  • Splotches of colour in the face and neck.
  • Going pale.
  • Rapid blinking (often to remove tears).
  • Frowning.
  • Red-tipped, damp nose.

What Sadness Feels Like

  • Slowed breathing, as if the chest is heavy.
  • An overall feeling of heaviness, or being trapped and unable to escape.
  • Feeling numb, hollow.
  • Aching head or stomach, muscle pains in the neck, back and chest especially. Any cold-like symptoms could also be added if the person has been grieving for a long time.
  • Wanting to scream but being unable to.
  • Sore throat and burning eyes due to sobbing.
  • A dry mouth.
  • Lack of appetite OR enhanced appetite.
  • Feeling nauseated or dizzy.
  • Being exhausted, but struggling to sleep OR sleeping more than usual but still feeling tired.
  • Wanting to be alone OR not wanting to be alone.
  • Not wanting to talk or be touched OR wanting to talk and be touched constantly.
  • Feeling cold.
  • Fixating on the person/pet/thing you lost. Replaying memories of that person in your head, or wanting to look at photographs of them.
  • Being unable to concentrate, or not interested in things/pets/people you love.
  • Not seeing the point in anything.
  • Feeling confused, as if the current events can’t be true and must be a bad dream.
  • An outward show of apathy, while there’s chaos in the mind.
  • Feeling as if you’re going insane.
  • Disbelief and unwillingness to accept what caused the sadness.

This is a massive post, but I still feel like so much can be added. I really hope it helps. If you have anything to add, please don’t hesitate to comment. Also, any suggestions for other posts in this series are welcome. You can find all of the writing emotions posts here. There should be a new one every two weeks. 🙂




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A Study of Ash & Smoke
A Trial of Sparks & Kindling


6 responses to “Let’s Write Sadness”

    • Thanks for the comment, Noor! I have a whole series of these kinds of posts that includes other emotions too! I just hope to learn more about writing tighter emotional scenes and maybe help other indie writers in the process. 🙂


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