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Kathy Steinemann | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's booksAward-winning author Kathy Steinemann recently shared a great resource: over 100 ways to say “shrug.” As all of my first-draft characters seem to have a nervous tick (which mercifully disappears by the second draft), I appreciated this so much that I just had to share.

As Kathy points out, there are many reasons why someone might shrug–indeed, it is this very versatility that explains why I overuse it in my first drafts. So, she has wisely categorized shrugs according to the emotion we want to convey:

Confusion

  • Rapid blinking
  • Rubbing the chin
  • Scratching the head
  • Wrinkling the nose

Deception

  • Changing the subject
  • Hesitating when answering questions
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Shifty eyes

Defensiveness

  • Holding something in front of the body
  • Leaning away from someone
  • Licking the lips
  • Squinting

Denial

  • Locking eyes with someone
  • Raising the palms in a not me gesture
  • Shuffling backward
  • Sweating

Determination

  • Cords or veins of neck standing out
  • Hard jaw
  • Leaning forward
  • Pressing on with an activity even if in pain or uncomfortable

Disbelief

  • Covering one’s ears as though trying to block bad news
  • Slack jaw
  • Unfocused stare
  • Wide eyes

Doubt

  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Biting one’s cheek
  • Rubbing the chin or the back of the neck
  • Running fingers through hair

Indifference

  • Attention focused on other characters or objects
  • Blank gaze
  • Speaking with hands in pockets
  • Turning away from someone who is speaking

Insecurity

  • Biting nails or lips
  • Fidgeting with hair or clothing
  • Forced smile
  • Red face and upper torso

Resignation

  • Hanging head
  • Poor personal grooming
  • Slumped shoulders
  • Trembling chin

Skepticism

  • Mumbling
  • Rubbing the eyes
  • Tsk-tsking through crooked mouth
  • Unrestrained smirk

Sympathy

  • Fumbling/at a loss for words
  • Patting someone’s back or hugging them
  • Speaking in a soothing voice
  • Stroking someone’s hair

Uncertainty

  • Halting dialogue
  • Pacing
  • Puckered forehead
  • Repeated swallowing

Worry

  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Thin smile
  • Thumbs clenched inside fists
  • Trembling

A-Z List

Shrug | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Source: Wikipedia commons

She also offers an A-Z list with words that might be used within the dialogue instead of a shrug:

A
Apologize

B
Belittle, brush aside, brush off

C
Criticize

D
Defy, delay, denigrate, deride, disdain, dismiss, disobey, disparage, disregard

E
Express regret

F
Face-palm

G
Goad

H
Hesitate

I
Ignore, insult

J
Jeer

M
Mock

O
Overlook

P
Pause, pay no attention to, pay no mind, plead ignorance, pooh-pooh, procrastinate, provoke

R
Rebuff, ridicule

S
Scoff, scorn, simper, slouch, sneer, snigger, snort, snub, stick out the tongue

T
Taunt, tease, twitch

V
Vacillate, vilify

I hope you find these as helpful as I have. Be sure to visit her post for more ideas and some great practical applications!

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