My first instinct is to always have a character furrow their eyebrows when confused because that's my personal first instinct, but I feel it's getting overused on my part. What are some other ways to display confusion?

  • 2
    Surely one furrows one's brow, not one's eyebrows? 'Furrow' means 'to wrinkle' in this context, can you winkle an eyebrow? To furrow your brow is to wrinkle your forehead. absolutewrite.com/forums/…
    – Spagirl
    Jun 28, 2017 at 21:57
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    Just be careful to avoid sniffing and tugging on a braid (ala Robert Jordan)
    – user18397
    Jun 29, 2017 at 4:48
  • @user18397 haha, often wondered how she could have any hair left. Jun 18, 2020 at 21:25

5 Answers 5


Dialogue is a good way to show confusion if you can.

“Well, I thought, er...I don’t really know,” he admitted.

But if you need non-verbal ways to show this, here are a few cheap ones I use:

  • tilted her head quizzically
  • a look of puzzlement/surprise crossed his face
  • she stopped, and peered intently at (something)
  • he paused and thought for a moment
  • she stopped, taken aback

There are probably many, many more, but you can riff on these as a starting point.


There are a few other body languages you can use to replace with furrowing of the eyebrows:

  • You can have the character scratch their head
  • Give them a dazed look of bewilderment
  • Have them shrug their shoulders with their hands up
  • Have them put their hand on their chin like they are thinking
  • Have their inner voice churn through the topic that made them confused in a low murmur rambling about it but not having them make any sense of it.

Think about your daily interactions. When someone says something that is confusing to you, what do you normally do? Probably some combination of what you said and I said. When you say something confusing to others, how do they usually react? Furrowing their eyes is usually a part of it, but generally people tend to use their full bodies in some combination of gestures, facial expressions and verbal words.

Try going out to a mall and hanging out watching people on a bench. See how they interact with each other, find some youtube videos of people being confused.


Hand gestures (or their absence from a character who usually uses them), changes in gaze or head position/orientation (e.g. looking down at their feet.) Changes re personal space: invasions thereof or retreats (a literal stepping back) are also common tells.


I usually think of stammering, blank stare, knitted brow, instantaneous use of Google to look something up, and the like. Good luck!


"...shot her a quizzical look and asked, 'what did you say again?'"

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