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The Emotion Thesaurus: a writer's guide to character expression, arrived in my mailbox today. I unwrapped the package over my desk. The book fell out and opened to the Dread page.  Mmm. We've been talking about this emotion since I published a Dread article on this blog.  

So, I thought it might be helpful for you to discover see how some of these dread descriptions might relate to you.  

Since an excerpt is one and a half pages out of the 167 page book, I believe I can honor copyright laws and share the Dread pages here.

The authors, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, are writers, not members of the mental health profession.  So these descriptions are from their perspective in terms of portraying a character who feels dread. 


Definition: a nearly overpowering fear to face or meet; a strong desire to avoid a future event or circumstance.

Physical Signals:

  1. holding the stomach as if pained
  2. clutching arms to one's chest
  3. shoulders curling forward, caving the chest in
  4. a bent neck
  5. leaning back or away from the source of discomfort
  6. dragging footsteps
  7. making excuses to leave
  8. a quiet voice, offering one-word response
  9. hunched posture and drooping head
  10. clasping one's knees tightly together
  11. avoiding eye contact
  12. turning the torso, shielding it
  13. lifting the shoulders as if to hide one's neck
  14. sweating
  15. rocking slightly
  16. hands that tremble
  17. seeking the safety of darkness, an exist, etc.
  18. holding one's elbows tightly aginst sides
  19. a downward gaze, using the hair as a shield
  20. making oneself appear smaller
  21. huddling in the corner, behind, or against something
  22. flinching or cringing
  23. heavy footsteps
  24. uncontrollable whispering
  25. increased swallowing
  26. arms crossing the stomach in a protective huddle
  27. rubbing and twisting one's hands, spinning rings or braelets
  28. scratching at the skin, picking or biting at nails
  29. clutching comfort items (a necklace, charm, phone, etc.)
  30. dragging the palms down one's pant legs
  31. chewing at one's lips or inner cheek and making them bleed
  32. a pale or sickly complexion

Internal Sensations:

a rolling stomach
  1. heavy or slugginsh heartbeat
  2. chills
  3. cold fingers
  4. tingling in the chest
  5. a weighted chest
  6. difficulty breathing
  7. a sour taste in the mouth
  8. ache in the back of the throad
  9. difficulty swallowing
  10. dizziness
  11. shakiness in the limbs

Mental Resonses:

  1. thoughts of escape
  2. wanting to hide
  3. wishing time woud speed up
  4. an inablity to see a positive outcome
  5. the need to check for danger overriding the need to hide

Cues of Acute or Long-Term Dread:

  1. shaking, shuddering
  2. jumping at sounds
  3. teeth chattering
  4. weeping
  5. seeking any excuse to avoid what is to come
  6. hyperventilating
  7. bargaining, pleading
  8. anxiety attack
  9. may escalate to Anguish (24), Terror (154)

Clues of Suppressed Dread:

  1. acting like one is simply feelng under the weather
  2. attempting to escape via distraction (TV, book, music)
  3. Focusing thoughts to keep fear from taking over
  4. Keeping still

Does this list help you bring your attention to your own physical and mental states
when you are feeling dread? Does this list help stimulate your thinking and make you
more aware of your feelings?

Remember, please, that this list was created by writers for writers. Still, in trying to make a
fictional character seem realistic when feeling dread, the authors may have created a list that
helps you be more realistic about your own real and lived experience.

Let me know what this list raises up for you, including nothing if that's the way it is. :)

Follow up article on Gurze blog: " Exploring the feeling and power of dread"

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are members of the SCBWI, The Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators.

Visit their award winning online resource if you want to get support for your own writing projects. And thank you, Angela and Becca for your permission to post the Dread excerpt from your book.

See next article on Gurze blog:  "Exploring the feeling and power of dread" 

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