In the dark abyssal depths of the Penguin-whale's blog you might find fandom posts, random posts, writing posts, and lots and lots of Pokemon.The penguin-whale will try to answer your questions
starry-nightengale said: So Stahl, I hear you're good with impressions! Could you do one of someone else in the army?
"Sure, I’ll go for it! Ahem…’Greetings! I am Frederick. I never sleep, instead keeping obsessive watch over Chrom’s tent at night. What’s that? Someone left a sword lying around? Throw them in the stocks! Fire.’"
Let’s just start by saying that—Surprise!—emotions are complicated and not everyone feels them or exhibits them in the same way. There are, however, more ways to exhibit surprise than the old stand-by of widening eyes.
What is surprise?
Surprise (n): A feeling of astonishment or shock caused by something unexpected.
Other things to note about surprise:
- It’s one of sevenexpressions of emotion (the other six are disgust, sadness, joy, contempt, anger, and fear).
- It is a neutral expression, meaning that it displays neither positive nor negative attributes. The measurement of these attributes as positive or negative is known as an emotion’s valence.
- It’s evolutionary, physical purpose seems to be to take in as much information as possible in as short a time as possible.
Keep in mind as you write that the intensity of the surprise and the emotions that follow a character’s initial surprised reaction are situational and extremely personal to the character, though there are a few general things to remember about surprise:
- It is brief. While everyone is going to react differently to a given situation, one thing on which we can all agree is that true surprise is a short-lived emotion. Unlike emotions like anticipation or awe, which might be significantly prolonged, surprise is practically a blip on the radar. Bear this in mind as you write: Whatever physical signs of surprise your character exhibits, they will only have that particular physical expression of emotion for a moment.
- Surprise segues into other emotions within seconds. Surprise is a gateway emotion. It doesn’t stick around long, so it’s almost instantly replaced with the reaction emotion, which might actually be the more important emotion of the two. It is important to register the surprise of a character, but it may also be vital for the reader to know what that surprise becomes because it will likely color the character’s surprise. For example, if a character is surprised then angry, that anger is probably more important to spend time describing than the surprise.
- Hiding surprise is not an option. You’re right to want to display surprise physically; it is one of several emotions that are nigh impossible to conceal. A few common physical signs of surprise:
- Eyebrows up and curved
- Upper eyelids raise to open our eyes wider
- Quick breath (not always)
- Open mouth; jaw drops (not always)
- Horizontal wrinkles appear on forehead
- If it’s prolonged surprise, it’s shock. Shock, also known as acute stress reaction, is a different animal altogether. There are not common facial expressions for shock, though certainly the stereotype is a blank, expressionless face. A character in shock may seem as though he or she is in a daze, unable to react quickly or see (sometimes physically) the situation clearly. Accelerated heart rate, sweating, nausea, and flushing are also common in sufferers of shock. These symptoms are not present in the expression of surprise, but may become present soon after where surprise has segued into shock. Like in the common saying goes, “After the initial surprise, shock sets in”.
- Surprised and startled are two different things. To be startled is to have an instinctual, fearful reaction to external stimuli.Since feeling startled involves fear and fear is a separate emotion from surprise, your character will likely have slightly different physical expressions of their emotion. A startled character will likely cringe, flinch, or go into a crouch. This cringe is just as instinctive as the hallmarks of surprise, but it is not indicative of surprise. A startled reaction is its own special thing.
So, how can you vary your description of surprise? Here are a few suggestions:
- Try using the other well-known facial cues besides widened eyes. Open mouth, dropped jaw, and sharp intake of breath are nothing to shake a stick at, but “wrinkles of surprise appeared on her forehead” has a certain magic to it, don’t you think? No one talks about wrinkles.
- Surprise may not be limited to the face. There are other body parts that might be busy showing the character’s surprise. What if your character dropped whatever he was holding or missed her mouth with her spoonful of hot soup? What if your character’s knees locked? What if his fists tightened or she jumped back from whatever surprised her? Try expanding your search for physical reaction to the rest of the body for variety.
- Do it with dialogue, onomatopoeia, or other noises. Instead of talking about widening eyes, get your characters to talk for you. Have them express their surprise through cursing or various euphemisms. This sort of reaction will likely come during the time the character is transitioning from surprise to their reaction emotion, which is why we have such a huge variety of ways to express our surprise through words. From “oh my lanta!” to “ACK!” to “bloody hell!”, a character’s surprise might be best exhibited via dialogue. If it’s onomatopoeia you’re going for, what sound does he or she make? Maybe your character always yelps in surprise, or squeaks or barks or gasps dramatically. Don’t discount the occasional noise in lieu of dialogue if the situation warrants it.
- Do it with quirks. Maybe your character always hiccups in surprise or cracks her toes or clasps his hands. Does he pale? Does she get goosebumps? If your character always does these things when he or she is surprised, you may be looking at a quirk. This quirk is sort of a trademark of the character, and when you describe it in association with an emotion, the reader will come to understand without having to be told outright every time that when the character starts hiccuping or blanches, he or she has just been surprised.
The best way by far to learn to describe an emotion is to research it thoroughly. With that in mind, check out these awesome resources to learn more about surprise:
- Wikipedia’s Article on Surprise
- Emotionwisegroup.org’s Article on Surprise
- Surprise: A Universal Expression of Emotion
- Emotion and Facial Expression
- The Emotion Thesaurus
- Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions
Thank you for your question! If you have anything to add to this article or a question of your own, please visit our ask box!
Senior English major on a Shakespeare final. (via minininny)
WELL THEY’RE NOT WRONG
How about this, though?
[Editorial Note: This “theory” depends on believing the Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet take place contemporaneously. So, for the sake of argument, let’s all agree that the events of both plays occur in the Spring of 1517 (chosen because of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, and the Reformational threads that run through Hamlet).]
See, in the Second Quarto and First Folio versions of Romeo and Juliet, a[n extremely minor] character appears with Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio at the Capulet’s Party (where, if you recall, Romeo meets Juliet for the first time).
Like Hamlet's Horatio, this Horatio is full of well-worded philosophical advice. He tells Romeo “And to sink in it should you burden love, too great oppression for a tender thing.”
Fig. 1 - Second Quarto Printing
Fig. 2 - First Folio Printing
[The American Shakespeare Center’s Education Blog discusses the likely “real” reasons for Horatio’s presence]
Let’s imagine that Horatio has travelled down from Wittenberg (about 540 miles) to Verona for his Spring Break. He hears about some guys who like to party (because, let’s be honest, besides getting stabbed, partying is Mercutio’s main thing). So, he ends up crashing the Capulet’s ball with them.
He is then on the sidelines as Romeo and Juliet fall in love, Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo kills Tybalt, Romeo gets banished, and both lovers are found dead in Juliet’s tomb.
This tragedy fresh in his mind, he returns to Wittenberg at the end of what has turned out to be a decidedly un-radical Spring Break and discovers that his bestie Prince Hamlet is leaving for Elsinore Castle because he’s just gotten news that his father, the King, is dead.
On the trip up (another ~375 miles), Horatio recounts the tragic romance he just witnessed in Verona. He advises (as he is wont to do) Hamlet not to mix love and revenge.
Hamlet takes Horatio’s advice to heart, breaking up with Ophelia so that he can focus is energy on discovering and punishing his father’s killer:
Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner
transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the
force of honesty can translate beauty into his
likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the
time gives it proof. I did love you once.
Ophelia - burdened by the perceived loss of Hamlet’s love and his murder of her father - goes mad and drowns herself.
You see, if Romeo had waited literally a minute and thirty seconds longer (31 iambic pentametrical lines) - he, Juliet, Ophelia (and possibly the rest of the Hamlet characters) would have made it.
* With thanks to roguebelle.
Buncha fuckin nerds in this town.
The Hamratiophelia Conspiracy Theory ftw