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So the problem I am having is that the protagonist of the novel I am writing is having a confrontation with another character, who starts panicking. Instead of saying "panic dripped from his face", I am trying to figure out a way to rewrite this so that it shows, not tells, the emotion. This is difficult for me because the story is told from the protagonist's point of view, which means he is observing the panic, not experiencing it himself.

What are the best techniques to "show instead of tell" this character's emotion through the observer's point of view?

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    Someone has voted to close this as off-topic for supposedly "asking what to write". I'm voting to leave it open, but I've proposed some edits to remove any question about it "asking what to write" and also to broaden the scope somewhat from "panic" to "emotion", thus making any answers more useful to future visitors to our site. Paravalious, if you disagree with my edits, I recommend you edit the question yourself to reduce the risk of further close votes. – Chappo Feb 27 at 23:30
  • @Chappo, please do not edit posts in a way that invalidates existing answers. The question was about how to show panic, not how to show emotions. That latter question is way too broad and I'm sure is already on the site. I had already answered the question about showing panic and then I come back and see I have a non-sensical answer because the question has changed (though you left panic as an example in the body). – Cyn Feb 28 at 6:35
  • @Cyn I can understand your reaction but I really don't think your answer is "invalidated" and "nonsensical" as a result of the edit. As you note yourself, panic is explicitly given as an example of an emotion, and your answer explores that in depth, which seems perfectly reasonable. In any case, check the revision history: it was the OP who made the edit; all I did was to provide the suggestion. – Chappo Feb 28 at 6:56
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I would name it once.

Have the viewpoint character notice the panic on the other character's face. It can be near the beginning or closer to the middle of the scene. Maybe later. By "scene" I mean the section where the panic is actually happening (which could be late in the actual scene).

Then throw in a few things the character is doing or saying.

  • Body freezing up.
  • Taking a beat or two longer than normal to reply verbally.
  • Taking a little extra time to respond physically (like missing a ball that is thrown).
  • Looking around nervously (or just the eyes).
  • Stammering.
  • Saying things s/he might not normally say, especially things like making promises or suggestions or giving away a minor secret.
  • Signs of stress in the body: red face, sweat, muscles weak, needing to sit down suddenly.
  • Panic also goes together with fear so you can mention fear as well if you wish.
  • I appreciate the tips you gave. What I should have mentioned (my apologies) is that these two characters do not know each other well, so verbal signs probably wouldn't be noticeable. I will definitely try the others though! Thanks! – Paravalious Feb 27 at 23:30
  • Most of this would be noticeable in comparison to an average person. Adding more information or promises during a conversational pause would be a good sign of panic. – Cyn Feb 27 at 23:33
  • Can you elaborate on what you mean by "information" or "promises"? – Paravalious Feb 27 at 23:33
  • Hard without knowing the context. Let's say it's a hotel manager coming on shift and dealing with a visitor who has weird smells coming from the unit and refuses to let housekeeping in. "You don't have to worry...I'm leaving soon anyway....by tomorrow 7am...I'll be out of here...I just spilled some food, sorry...but I cleaned it up...the smell is from the trash...that's it, the trash...I'll be gone tomorrow morning anyway." – Cyn Feb 27 at 23:38
  • the scenario for my situation is this dude just got turned into a vampire by some strangers and he's now confronting them about what happened to him. The POV character is observing the panic in this newly transformed human. – Paravalious Mar 4 at 13:55

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