FEAR – a cheat sheet, of sorts


I’ve needed to do his for a while… so I did. And I figured if I needed it, you might.

So here.

This is a list of things words and phrases to convey fear in a character (some are more for nervousness but that’s an offshoot of fear, more or less.

(We’ve discussed writing effective emotions before HERE but didn’t make a list of words for it.)

We probably need one for every emotion, and as creative types I’m sure we can think them up for ourselves.

Add to this list and feel free to start a new list with words and phrases to express whatever you’re struggling with. I’ll cut-paste them all into a big post or several small posts.

TIP: USE SHORTER SENTENCES for the fearful part


TIP: think of what you do when the emotion happens, and then play it back in your mind and write down what you see. An example follows at the end. Feel free to add your own.

TIP: find pictures of the emotion you need to describe and then write down what you see.

Pounding heart – my go to, and hence the list

heart hammered against his ribs

heart in throat

fear 1eyes widen

mouth drops open

groan in fear

stand rigid


back away from something

walk slowly toward something (creep)

Cover mouth with hand

Short breathing

Hands shake


Holding stomachfear 6

Electricity shoots through stomach

adrenaline shoots through stomach

adrenaline shoots through mouth

stomach drops

Tense muscles

Eyes darting around the roomfear 2

Hands out holding wall if backed up to one

Biting nails

mouth goes dry

white knuckles when holding something

face goes pale/blood drains out of face

cry or almost cry

bite lip

fidget: tug at clothes, play with pen, crack knuckles

speak with a  stammer or hesitation


pupils dilate

raised eyebrows

sweaty palmsfear 3

squirm in chair

shift weight on feet

adjust collar  or necktie

rub back of neck

run away

shut eyes

cover head with hands

cover head with blanket

jump, as in startled

grab chest

say “Oh my god!” or just about any other expletive

pee your pants (sorry)

hit the thing scaring youfear 4

kick the thing scaring you


frozen in place with fear

sweat runs down temple or forehead

avoid eye contact

tapping your toe

tapping your fingers on a table or steering wheel

fold arms

rocking back and forth

hunch over or slouch

look down

can’t think straight

Pleading: please, no, pleasefear 7

Can’t breathe/the fear is choking me

Shiver down spine

Hairs stand up on the back of your neck


A desperate desire to be elsewhere

Knees get weak

Can’t watch


Pass out

Hide under table

Cringe, raising shoulder to protect face/head – may be the same as slouching to some people


When somebody jumps out and yells “Boo!” you jump back, your jaw drops open, your eyes widen, you get ready to flee


you grab your chest, say, “Oh, my god!” exhale, bend over a little, grab the wall to balance yourself, say, “Shit, you scared the hell out of me!”


you take deep breaths or laugh. Or punch the person.

What are some that YOU can think of, or emotions we need a list for?

10 thoughts on “FEAR – a cheat sheet, of sorts

  1. Disappointment – in all its forms – we all know the feeling that ebbs and flows inside – sometimes shown – more often subdued – yet visual clues always there – more subtle than fear – less eruptive than anger. How to express it in words – in dialogue rich stories – as mine. Very interested to hear your and the views of others. Perhaps the most corrosive emotion we feel?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a hollowness inside. Probably a next door neighbor to sadness, but with more personality. The wind goes out of you. Can’t take a deep breath for a few minutes, You carry a lead stomach around for a while, and the feeling is akin to a lingering lack of trust that’s always just over your shoulder from then on about it.

      That’s my first take on Disappointment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I relate to all your first take … sadness with more personality especially … and the killer … lingering lack of trust … it eats away at hope … and hope is everything. So here comes another emotion … for me the ultimate … hope.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great list! Thanks! I struggle with showing fear in my characters, particularly in the first person. It’s a delicate task to show that your character, for instance, tastes adrenaline shooting though their mouth, without having them weirdly announce to the reader that they’re tasting adrenaline in their mouth. You know? Many of these responses are things that a person would notice peripherally, but not necessarily comment on. I find that the most useful tool for learning how to do this is reading books written in your same style and genre. Check out how your favorite authors work this stuff in there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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