Unmasking Your Character’s Micro Expression

Your character is hiding something from us.

Your character appears stoic during a stressful situation. How can s/he be so cool and calm when the stakes are high?

Then another character says something that seems trivial—until it gets your character to react.

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Any reaction from someone so aloof explodes on the page. Yet, if your character tends to tuck away his/her feelings, then this emotional explosion would be pretty small and incredibly short.

Character, meet your Micro Expression.

What is a Micro Expression?

A micro expression is a brief facial expression, lasting only a fraction of a second, conveying a strong emotion hidden beneath the surface. A micro expression usually surfaces when a person is trying to conceal their true feeling but it emerges unconsciously.

What Do Micro Expressions Have To Do With My Characters?

That depends on your character. If you have a character that can’t shut up about his/her feelings, then this probably doesn’t apply.

But you most likely have one character that doesn’t want to open up. These characters continually appear in stories because we the audience love trying to decipher his/her true intentions and emotions.

Readers like to think of themselves as master sleuths.

We the audience also love the weaknesses and flaws of these mysterious characters. And that weakness can be shown through the quick reveal during a pivotal story moment.

Writing micro expressions into your story is a great way to foreshadow the key revealing moments for your mysterious character so that it doesn’t come as a complete surprise to your readers later on. Your character’s micro expression clues readers in on who they really are, a quick moment that the reader feels the satisfaction of finally getting close to your character, only to be pushed away again.

Okay, But What Does A Micro Expression Look Like?

To put it simply, a micro expression looks like a brief moment of an emotion if naturally revealed for many seconds. Here are ways to describe the quick reveal:


  • Raising corners of the lips, as if beginning to smile
  • Raising and wrinkling cheeks, as if to laugh
  • Narrowing eyelids, producing crow’s feet


  • Narrowed eyes
  • Eyebrows squished together
  • Frowning mouth
  • Bunching of the chin


  • Lowered eyebrows
  • Wrinkling of the forehead
  • Tensed eyelids
  • Tensed lips


  • Mouth and eyes are open
  • Raised eyebrows
  • Flared nostrils


  • Raising one side of the mouth, as if smirking


  • Scrunched nose
  • Raised upper lip
  • Lowered eyebrows
  • Narrowed eyes


  • Dropped jaw, as if gasping
  • Relaxed lips and mouth
  • Widened eyes
  • Raised eyelids and eyebrows, just slightly

What micro expression does your character reveal? What micro expression should be revealed? Share your stories below.

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