Thursday, February 7, 2013

I Get So Emotional

This Is Anger Management Stock Image - Image: 10781681

As writers, it's our job to show our readers how our characters are feeling.  Like real people, our characters will most likely experience a myriad of different emotions based on factors such as their circumstances, surroundings, or interactions with others.  Unlike real people, our characters can't express those emotions without our help.  So, how do we do it?

A key point that we need to remember is that human beings express emotion in both verbal and non-verbal ways.  You can often determine one's emotional state simply by observing factors such as speech pattern, facial expression, and body language.  There are often physical and psychological changes that take place as well.  In order to properly convey the feelings of the character, a writer must take all these factors into consideration.  A good place to start is to think about the scene and what emotion the character is experiencing.  How does one express that particular feeling?  For example, if he is angry, his face may turn red, he may narrow his gaze, grit his teeth, or set his jaw.  Breathing may become rapid, he may sweat, or tense his muscles.  The character may yell, speak with an edgy voice, or even say nothing at all.  No matter what, however, more than one factor will take place to express the emotion.  Keep in mind, too, that not everyone expresses emotion in the same way.  One angry person may scream and throw a tantrum; another may sit quietly and sulk.  Be sure that your character's expression is as unique to him as it would be if he were a real human being.  Your readers will quickly lose interest in "cookie-cutter" characters.

When creating an emotional scene, a writer also needs to remember that "less is more."  You absolutely want the reader to "get into" your character and know how he is thinking and feeling, but you don't want to slow down the pace of the story by using twenty pages to do it!  Do your best to avoid long, drawn-out emotional scenes that don't keep the pages turning. Using strong indicators like body language that the reader can interpret and dialogue or interaction with other characters can help with this.  Injecting emotion into narrative is fine, but, again, be careful not to overdo.  If the writing is strong, the reader will "get the message" right away, and you will keep his/her interest in the rest of the story.

Remember that well-rounded characters make for well-rounded stories that will keep your readers engaged and coming back for more.  Happy writing!

For more info on how to show emotion in your characters, check out "The EMOTION Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression" by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

Photo courtesy of Dreamstime


  1. Excellent post and great reminder for writers.

    1. Thanks, Jacqueline! I believe that showing emotion in a character makes them more real, believable, and interesting to the reader.