author, creative writing, writers, writing

6 things writers need to consider when writing character emotions

Emotion. It’s the heart of any story, fiction or otherwise. Stories trigger emotions in their readers; joy, fear, excitement, sadness, nostalgia….
Likely, the reader’s emotions will be a reflection of the emotions displayed in the book. As such, writing our characters, making them believable, relatable and real, means getting to the heart of their feelings.

That age-old writing advice, show don’t tell, is vital here. Consider the following:
‘He was sad.’
‘She ran in fear.’
‘I was so excited!’

Does it evoke any emotion in you? Likely not. So if you’re going show emotion in your story, here are the things you need to consider.

Personal experience
They say write what you know, and this is certainly helpful when it comes to emotions. Throughout our lives we’ll have felt an array of emotion, positive and negative. Draw from your personal experiences. The internal sensations, the impact on your day to day life, the way others responded to you. If it was real for you, then it’ll likely feel real to your readers.

Facial expressions
Physical traits are by no means the most important part of a character, but they are still important. We wear our emotions in our expressions. Look a photographs of people displaying emotion. Note every tiny details, from creases in their skin to the shape of their mouth. Try not to fall down the trap of describing characters as merely ‘smiling’ and ‘frowning.’ Tiny details paint a bigger picture. For fun, you can pull faces in the mirror and take note of how your features shift.

Body language
Body language accounts for 55% of our communication, and it’s also one of the quickest ways to see what a person is feeling. The way we hold ourselves, how we walk, how we stand, are usually sub-conscious and a sure betrayer of emotions you’re trying to hard. Again, look at pictures, watch videos, pose in front of a mirror.

Thought process/inner monologue
Character emotion can be held inside, and stories often include inner monologues from the lead characters. Their thought process, the way they talk in their own head, can be very telling. Consider long rambling theories, thoughts jumping from one thing to another, the things a person notices and chooses to focus on. Without telling the reader how they’re feeling, your characters’ inner monologues will give them away.

It’s not just inner monologues that express feelings, but it’s speaking out loud as well. Do they stutter? Do the speak fast? Is their pitch low or high, loud or quiet? Perhaps they aren’t speaking at all, which is telling in itself.

The way characters react to things is another way their emotions can betray them. Are they defensive? Easily angered? Do they flinch when somebody shouts or run when they’re accused of something? Do they jump when they hear good news, or collapse in relief when things work out?

Share your tips and advice on character emotion in the comments below!

Until then,
keep writing,

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12 thoughts on “6 things writers need to consider when writing character emotions”

  1. M, thanks. I am reading a second book that alters first person narrative by chapter, with the title of each chapter the name of the first person perspective. I must admit, it is an interesting way to write as you get a person’s feelings about the same episode. What are your thoughts on this technique? Keith

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of things I’ve sometimes seen is that writers don’t think through a person’s reactions to things and experiences. If a friend jumps out of hiding and yells “Boo!”, you have a momentary fright and it’s done. But if someone leaps out of hiding and violently assaults you, but you manage to escape, that is not going to be forgotten in a couple of minutes with no further thought given to it. Some emotions are momentary, but some are more ongoing and impact a person long after an event.

    Liked by 1 person

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