I am struggling trying to get one of my characters to display disdain for someone. I've tried him "snorting", "twisting his lips", "rolling his eyes" but it isn't coming across well.

Can anyone give me better suggestions? Thanks much!


In the right context, wincing or cringing can show disdain, as well as recoiling. Maybe someone looks someone else up and down and glares, or squints/narrows their eyes at them.

Also, upon looking up the definition of disdain online, their sentence actually is: "her upper lip curled in disdain", so lip movement might be a good way to go here.

Observe what other people do when they feel this way, and what their body language is (and even yours). You could have fun by grossing someone out and then pull the excuse, "It's for a book I'm writing. Thanks for your help." And if narrative isn't working, maybe the dialogue itself could be used to display the emotion? Just an idea.

  • 1
    Thanks! I appreciate it. Feb 1 '20 at 22:20

You might have better luck searching for "contempt" instead of "disdain". The research of the Paul Ekman Group (on how humans express emotions) is particularly interesting in this context: https://www.paulekman.com/universal-emotions/what-is-contempt/

The expression of contempt: tightened and raised lip on one side of the face

However, when I recently did research on the same topic, I found the best description of the expression elsewhere: http://descriptivefaces.blogspot.com/2010/12/facial-expressions-contempt.html

To summarize, apart from the ones you mentioned, you could also use the following tells:

  • one side of the upper lip curling upwards
  • looking down their nose at someone
  • sneering
  • exaggerated sigh (especially when combined with an eyeroll)
  • folded arms
  • dismissive hand gesture

There are others that are less specific (such as narrowed eyes, or raising an eyebrow) but might work well in combination with the others.

Contempt is also related to disgust, and someone feeling contemptuous of someone else might briefly show traces of disgust on their face (so-called "microexpressions"):

  • wrinkled nose
  • raised upper lip

Shutting down in an aggressive way can be disdainful too, holding in or actively growling around someone is another there has to be someone actor, singer, that person who keeps showing up at Starbucks that you find the same when you feel that way take note what are you doing? How are you behaving? If you need a physical description heres what the book Writer's Guide to Character Traits (personally not a fan of this book) says: brows down not drawn together, eyes have lower lids raised, lip upper may rise, tongue maybe visible. Everyone shows contempt differently some try hard to hold it back others let it fly that's more definitive then what the face is doing.

but really I don't think you need to have a play by play wiggling and squinting or crushing of features just say they were or are in disdain for this person, thing, show,k event, ect or show it in manners not facial movements how do they avoid the person they hate? Or how do they retaliate having to work with them? To me the how are they behaving to this person each time they show up is more impactful then facial descriptions that might just take the reader out of your book as they try to imagine the way the face moves not actions the character it doing.

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