Showing Character Emotion

Happy is easy, but how do you portray an emotion your character is trying to hide?

One of the exercises that I did last week for my essay study was on studying emotion.  Some signs of emotion are obvious — if someone is sobbing, we know they are overwhelmingly sad.  But what are some of the more subtle indicators of emotion.

I decided to do this little study at the orthodontist’s office.  I wasn’t sure what I’d get to study, boredom maybe, but I knew there would be a steady stream of people.  Fortunately, uncooperative teens and a broken appliance meant that I got to see aggravation acted out three very different ways.

First off — how would you portray someone who is aggravated.  Maybe raising her voice or pressing her lips together.  I saw the latter, but didn’t hear the former.

Aggravated Mom #1 was dealing with a bored teenage daughter.   When her daughter said something snippy, Mom kept her eyes on her magazine she was reading but her lips were pressed tightly together.  Her frown is very slight.  Very close to a straight line.  Muppet-like.  Other than that, she ignored her daughter until the girl went back to fiddling with her i-phone.

Aggravated Mom #2 was trying to get her son, a non-patient, off the office computer games so that they could leave.  She called his name, sounding very patient and super sweet.  But she was looking over the tops of her glasses, not sun glasses so she really didn’t need to do it to see.  Her eyebrows were raised, approaching hair line, and her eyes were wide looking from beneath her brow ridge.  She looked like she is saying, “I see you not doing what I want.”

Aggravated Mom #3 was receiving news about her daughter’s broken appliance/retainer.  The tech was telling her that the couldn’t really fix it or replace the part this visit.  Mom’s mouth pulled in small but not pursed, as if someone had pulled on a drawstring, drawing it in about half of what is possible.  Eyes are also smaller than normal, closed a bit.  Brows not pulled down.  As if she was making a conscious effort not to pull brows down.   As if she was annoyed but is trying to hide it.

So how would you portray your aggravated character now?  Any new ideas?