Another big emotion besides sadness and happiness that writers usually include in their manuscripts is FEAR. This comes naturally with the obstacles, tough problems, and major life changes that accompany a challenging plot. And if you're writing in the paranormal and horror genres, there are even more opportunities to explore this emotion. It can add a powerful sense of realism to your work.
So how do we show this fear?
Ways to Show Fear or Terror
Screams, shivers, and racing heartbeats are solid, traditional ways to display fear, but can end up feeling melodramatic or cliché. A few instances go a long way. You can unintentionally create a disconnect if your reader doesn't relate to the degree of fear your character is feeling.
1. BODY LANGUAGE. Along with screams and increased heartbeats, you can include things like wide eyes, trembling hands or bodies, and shallow or ragged breathing. An inability to think straight. A paralysis, being frozen in one place, or loss of other bodily functions. White or paling faces. A hand covering one's mouth. White knuckles. Jumping, flinching, and fleeing. Sweat. Nausea. Shivers running up and down the spine. Dry throats. All these things are great ways of showing fear without writing the words fear, terror, or frightened.
Key concept: SHOW not TELL your characters' emotions.
2. INTERACTIONS. How your characters react to the world when they are fearful is very revealing. They may shout or rant--displaying their terror by deflecting it to anger. They may cling tightly to someone else's arm, jabber incoherently, or be unable to stop shrieking. On the flip side, they may be the kind who freezes up and cannot act or hide. As with other strong emotions, often judgment is skewed, and your characters can make (plot-interesting) mistakes while in the throes of terror. Stay true to your characters' personalities, and how they would react to fearful events.
3. GO BEYOND THE CLICHÉ and PHYSICAL
Especially if you're writing in a genre that involves a lot of terrifying situations, you'll find yourself pushed to go beyond descriptions of what your character's body is experiencing. Writing (and reading) about trembling limbs, spine-tingling shivers, and fast-beating hearts can get old really fast. The best strategy is to spread out these physical reactions over the manuscript, as well as explore different ways to describe the emotion.
Get creative! Turn cliché descriptions on their head, infuse them with a shot of originality. Don't try too hard, though; your writing will sound overwrought and awkward.
Yawners: His heart raced./His heart pounded.
Better: His heart hammered against his ribs./His heart jack-hammered under his ribs.
Fresher yet: His heart skidded into hyperspeed. (Although this focuses more on speed, whereas the jackhammer sounds more intense or forceful. It depends on your intent.)
4. TENSION and SUSPENSE
Another way to make your character (and reader) feel fear is to amp up the tension, tautness, and suspense of your scenes. This can be accomplished by shorter sentences, smaller paragraphs, and even sentence fragments. Don't include details your frightened character wouldn't notice; this is NOT the place for a tour, or a flashback or memory. Keep a sense of mystery--a sense of the shadowy unknown. Have unexpected things fall, jump out, or make noises.
Make sure something is at stake, and that the reader knows what the consequences are. Include shortened timeframes to accomplish a task, or the threat of ruination, injury, or death if your character fails. And make sure your plot has enough twists and nasty surprises to elicit shock and fear from your readers. They will experience it along with your main character.
Do you read or write in the horror genre?
Do you write stories where your character is fearful? How does he/she show it?
Are you weary of writing about pounding heartbeats and shallow breathing--and do you think you can go beyond those clichés?
Good luck, and have fun!