Showing character emotions – more research sources – Part 2

(Part 1 is here.)

I check out what emotions need body language in my handwritten notes and my rough drafts:

I analyze what I have written: Andrew is feeling bad – after all, he didn’t think to ask Grant to keep it a secret – so he displaces his anger at himself by getting angry at Grant, who ‘should have known’ not to reveal Andrew’s business. Andrew projects his own guilt onto Grant. But Grant is a superior – the director in the film for which Andrew is one of the leads – so Andrew must suppress his anger and feeling of betrayal, and his own feeling of guilt.

That is what I’m trying to portray by Andrew’s body language, so that Bianca can pick it up, get the information more or less correctly, but with her own skew: she immediately jumps to the why, and specifically, the why as it affects her own agenda of attracting Andrew.

So the trio of emotions in Andrew I’m trying to portray are guilt, betrayal, and anger.

Research into what others have done – and possibly what NOT to do –

This is a fun site – but be aware you will get caught for hours. Go to – and do NOT say I didn’t warn you.

Packed with definitions, and chock full of examples from all kinds of media – games, film, TV, books, anime…

You can follow the well-linked site, see how your favorites use tropes or subvert tropes.

You get a good idea from wallowing in the data what things have already been done – which have been extremely overused, to the point of being cliches – and it loads your mind up with ideas you can plug into your own story.

An hour on the site is an education – and free.

They warn about spoilers – there are places where you have to select a blank area and highlight it because the text is white like the background. Be especially aware that ending tropes are full of spoilers – and there is often no effort to warn you, because they’ve told you many times that these are endings, and contain plot solutions; proceed through those at your own peril.

My go-to site –

The piece-de-resistance which ties it together for me:  NOW I go to the site I have – and my notes – for body language.

Betrayal has a weight. In a world where a character experiences sudden fame and fortune, the character will have trouble figuring out who is actually for him (true friends) and who is there because of the fame and fortune (false friends). Since betrayal is one of the main themes in the story, it is worth the time to stop and get it right.

A sub-area – Micro-expressions:

These are usually quick and attenuated forms of the normal expression of the emotion. (Examples of anger micro-expressions from Changing Minds: “Eyes wide and staring; eyebrows pulled down (especially in middle); wrinkled forehead).

If you watched the TV show Lie to me, you know it is almost impossible to pin these down in real time. The show tapes people and analyzes TV news feeds so they can slow the feedback to where the show’s analysts pick up what the micro-expressions are giving away.

The show also has a ‘natural’: a person who is good at catching micro-expressions – or their implications – without needing special training. And I learn in my research that many people are actually sensitive to micro-expressions – but couldn’t tell you exactly why they think someone is lying (therefore the ‘naturals’), so I can use that for a character.

(To be concluded – Part 3.)


5 thoughts on “Showing character emotions – more research sources – Part 2

  1. Circe

    Interesting! Though using sociological sources–among which Meredith McGuire’s Lived Religion and work of Pierre Bourdieu–I, too, am currently writing about what people do to examine religion. I am not considering as much, what they claim to believe or myself attributing specific sets of emotions to them, as looking at the embodied practice.
    Where I fail utterly, of course, as I am not in a physical place where I can do more field work, is in micro-emotions. You give me hope that I will not wither and die, or wring all life from my “subjects” (no longer the PC term in sociology) but am perhaps even doing work that will help me write fiction one day myself.
    The one person I can write about is myself. I have written quite a few vignettes in which I am the main character. When this weekend’s conference is over, I will reconsider revisit, and attempt to make funnier by showing my emotions rather than telling what they are.
    Here’s an example: Wait, I just walked 26 km with a heavy backpack, and I am now going to be rewarded with a nice, cold glass of…water?! How will I show my surprise, almost disbelief, melting into dismay/disgust without using that language?


    1. ABE Post author

      Portray your emotions, but don’t NAME them.

      Then show your reactions – by body language – but again, don’t say WHY.

      Humans are perceptive – they will get it. You are trying to let them intuit things for themselves. Give them some work to do. Share 50/50 with your reader (can’t remember where I picked that one up – there are many versions).

      If you haven’t read Perfume, he does an amazing job of invoking the sense of smell – you are right there in filthy medieval France. It’s worth a read (though I wasn’t too thrilled with the ending – so you’ve been warned).


  2. Rachel6

    TV Tropes and Lie to Me, two things I have been addicted to at different times 🙂

    I have absolutely no clue of how to convey guilt, betrayal, and anger quietly. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!



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