Dec 21, 2013

Showing Emotions in Your Writing

by Cindy R. Williams

"Gerald lay propped in the snow. He stared at the flames. A lump lodged in his throat, about the same size as the hole that had just been ripped out of his heart.



What have you done?"
The Crystal Code - The Billionaire Series by Richard Newsome

Writing emotions, true emotions so that you connect with your readers. Words that make your reader feel, and even agonize over what the character is going through. Writing with that ability is surely a worthy goal.

The opening exert hit me hard when I read it. I felt Gerald's pain, the tragedy of the situation. I mean, "A lump lodged in his throat, about the size of the hole that had just been ripped out of his heart." Wow! How did Mr. Newsome come up with that? How do other writers do it? I racked my brain to think of how describe what my character is feeling, how to put it in words, how to make it feel real to readers. I think I spend more time on trying to show feelings in my writing than I do on any other aspect.

Once I get words that seem to say what I mean, I often have a meandering paragraph, nothing so succinct as the "lump lodges in his throat, about the size of the hole ripped out of the heart" thing. So now there are two issues. Find the right words and be able to say it succinctly.

Is there a trick? Is there a gimmick, a tool, a method to writing emotions so well? If there is and you know it, will you please share it with me?

In the meantime, I will continue to rack my brain, and rattle around in my emotions as I strive to find words that show what my characters are feeling without losing my reader in my ramblings.



  1. If you find any magic solutions, let me know! Showing emotion on the written page is definitely a gift.

  2. Hi Cindy,

    I have a couple of thoughts about how to create emotion in writing. The key is to remember a story is a succession of actions and reactions.

    You probably learned the basics in freshman psych. Motivating Stimulus > Response. Cause > Effect. Action > Reaction. In a story action leads to reaction which leads to another action and another reaction leading to yet another action and reaction. Those two elements intermesh to create the story.

    So, what does that have to do with feeling? Feeling is not only the place at which every story starts, it is the very center of reaction and connects action to reaction. It is the energy that creates changes for the characters and pushes the story along.

    Can I mention the next logical thing? (I will anyway, so never mind.) Action > Reaction units can be broken down into three very basic components that express things like character, voice, or mood. If you practice with them a bit, you can see how those components can be fiddled around to fit into a tiny exchange but create a big reaction which elicits a bigger action which elicits a bigger reaction.
    Those three components are 1) feeling, 2) action, and 3) speech. (Preferably in that order since feeling is what jogs action and speech.)

    For instance:
    “Hey, Jenn,” he said. “How’re ya doin’?”
    “Pretty much amazing, thanks.”
    If you let an action or reaction stand neutral you lose your best opportunity to create or amp-up emotion and define character and mood. We don’t know anything about the characters feelings.

    This is how we use the three components to create emotion in the exchange:
    “Hey, Jenn,” he said, “How’re ya doin’?”
    A warm glow flowed through her and she smiled. “Pretty much amazing, thanks.”
    Feeling. Action. Speech.

    How about this one?
    “Hey, Jenn,” he said, “How’re ya doin’?”
    Hot fury beat into her face. She gritted her teeth. “Pretty much amazing, thanks.”
    Feeling. Action. Speech.

    If you fiddle around with these three components, you can compact them by implying one or more of them.

    Like this:
    “Hey, Jenn,” he said, “How’re ya doin’?”
    A warm glow flowed through her. “Pretty much amazing, thanks.”
    Feeling. Speech. We can imply the action.

    What about this?
    “Hey, Jenn,” he said, “How’re ya doin’?”
    Hot fury beat into her face.
    “Hey,” he screamed. “What did ya do that for?”
    In this case, his speech defined her action.

    Fun, huh? And no rambling.

    Hope you a a nice Christmas too.

    Terry Montague

  3. Wow! A "this makes sense" moment bounced in my brain as I read your comments Terry. No, I had not been taught what you shared from basic freshman psych. Thank you for sharing this. I plan on printing your tutorial comments to review often until they become second nature. I appreciate you taking the time to comment. This type of writing education helps tremendously. Do you mind if I share it in my ANWA Chapter meeting?

    1. Nope.

      You're welcome. I'm always glad to see a writing topic addressed in this blog and it's fun to participate and share.


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