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This list of facial expressions for writers is one of my all-time most popular posts. It came about because I started to list facial expressions in a spiral notebook for my own reference, and then I figured I’d share. A lot of writers keep this page bookmarked! 

Writers need good facial expression descriptions in their writing to help the readers picture the characters and to convey emotions. However, it’s easy for us to rely on the same descriptions over and over again. And sometimes in the middle of writing, when we’re trying to find the words to describe an angry expression or a sad expression, we draw a blank.

The expressions are broken down by the part of the face. Note that some of them work for more than one emotion—a person might narrow their eyes out of vindictiveness or skepticism, for instance, and their face might turn red out of anger or out of embarrassment. Some of them require a little more explanation on your part. You’ll have to say what she’s glaring at, or if his face is contorting in rage, or grief, or what. And not all of these will work for every character. In many cases I’ve given several ways to describe the same thing. While I have included some longer phrases, they are not proprietary and it’s fine to use them.

Some of these aren’t exactly words to describe facial expressions, but they’re useful for dialogue tags. In fact, I started this list in a notebook for myself as a reference so I would stop using “he said” and “she said” so often…and as any editor or writing coach will tell you, just using tons of synonyms for “said” does not solve this problem; it makes it worse! By using a facial expression as a dialogue tag, you can also convey the tone of voice.

Here’s the facial expressions list. You might want to pin it for future reference!


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Ways to Describe Expressions Related to the Eyes and Eyebrows

his eyes widened

their eyes went round

her eyelids drooped

his eyes narrowed

his eyes lit up

his eyes darted

he squinted

she blinked

her eyes twinkled

his eyes gleamed

her eyes sparkled

his eyes flashed

her eyes glinted

his eyes burned with…

her eyes blazed with…

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her eyes sparked with…

her eyes flickered with…

_____ glowed in his eyes

the corners of his eyes crinkled

she rolled her eyes

he looked heavenward

she glanced up to the ceiling

she winked

tears filled her eyes

his eyes welled up

her eyes swam with tears

his eyes flooded with tears

her eyes were wet

their eyes glistened

tears shimmered in her eyes

tears shone in his eyes

her eyes were glossy

he was fighting back tears

tears ran down her cheeks

his eyes closed

she squeezed her eyes shut

he shut his eyes

his lashes fluttered

she batted her lashes

his brows knitted frowning, glaring man | FACIAL EXPRESSIONS LIST

her forehead creased

his forehead furrowed

her forehead puckered

a line appeared between their brows

his brows drew together

her brows snapped together

his eyebrows rose

she raised a brow

he lifted an eyebrow

his eyebrows waggled

she gave him a once-over

he sized her up

her eyes bored into him

she took in the sight of…

he glared

she peered

he gazed

she glanced

he stared

she scrutinized

he studied

she gaped

he observed

she surveyed

he gawked

he leered

his pupils (were) dilated

her pupils were huge

his pupils flared

Ways to Describe Expressions Related to the Nose

her nose crinkled

his nose wrinkled

she sneered

his nostrils flared

she stuck her nose in the air

he sniffed

she sniffled

Ways to Describe Expressions Related to the Mouth

she smiled

he smirked

she grinned

he simpered

she beamed

her mouth curved into a smile

the corners of his mouth turned up

the corner of her mouth quirked up

a corner of his mouth lifted

his mouth twitched

he gave a half-smile

she gave a lopsided grin

his mouth twisted woman's mouth quirked to the side | FACIAL EXPRESSIONS LIST #Master Lists for Writers free pdf #Master Lists for Writers free ebook #words to describe facial expressions

he plastered a smile on his face

she forced a smile

he faked a smile

their smile faded

his smile slipped

he pursed his lips

she pouted

his mouth snapped shut

her mouth set in a hard line

he pressed his lips together

she bit her lip

he drew his lower lip between his teeth

she nibbled on her bottom lip

he chewed on his bottom lip

his jaw set

her jaw clenched

his jaw tightened

a muscle in her jaw twitched

he ground his jaw

he snarled/his lips drew back in a snarl

her mouth fell open

his jaw dropped

her jaw went slack

he gritted his teeth

she gnashed her teeth

her lower lip trembled

his lower lip quivered

Ways to Describe Reactions Related to the Skin

she paled

he blanched

she went white

the color drained out of his face

his face reddened

her cheeks turned pink

his face flushed

she blushed

he turned red

she turned scarlet

he turned crimson

a flush crept up her face

Ways to Describe Expressions Having to Do With the Whole Face

he screwed up his face

she scrunched up her face

they grimaced

she winced

she gave him a dirty look

he frowned

she scowled

he glowered

her whole face lit up

she brightened

his face went blank

her face contorted

his face twisted

her expression closed up

his expression dulled

her expression hardened

she went poker-faced

a vein popped out in his neck

awe transformed his face

fear crossed her face

sadness clouded his features

terror overtook his face

recognition dawned on her face 


It may seem a little obsessive to list facial expressions, but there’s almost nothing I like better than making lists! I have many more lists like this in my book Master Lists for Writers: Thesauruses, Plots, Character Traits, Names, and More. I think it’s a great tool for making “show don’t tell” easier and for inspiration during every part of the writing process. Check it out!

Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan #master lists for writers free pdf #master lists for writers free ebook


Thank you so much for reading, and happy writing! 


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