Emotions in writing…

collage photo of woman

Emotions, especially when writing fiction, are critical to successfully connecting to your audience. That’s a no-brainer of course, but executing those emotions on the page is not always so easy. Showing emotions, rather than telling your readers how someone feels, is one of the most written about topics for writers, with good reason.

Human emotion is complex, there are limitless nuances, and when written, subtext to consider. That poses a challenge for any writer, but new writers (those without a lot of writing experience) struggle to show all of that. It’s one of the first roadblocks fiction writers encounter leading to, “show don’t tell”.

Emotion is also a broad category. The picture above is a good slice of potential emotions, but there is always more to capture for your readers. The complexity and breadth of emotions can lead to a terrible writing sin, flat characters. Emotionless, wooden people who are more like posable action figures than living humans (or aliens, elves, unicorns, etc.). The alternative is just as bad, melodramatic, over the top characters who react in bizarre ways to plot developments or routine activities.

Once you get it right, emotions are the bedrock for your stories. How you use emotions can mesmerize your readers with your thoughtful portrayal of a character. This is another place you can lose that reader entirely. More than internal thoughts or dialogue, how your audience responds to how your characters feel grounds them in your world. Even if that world is inherently strange or difficult to understand, feelings are universal and timeless.

For every one of those stories that take our breath away, there are dozens that don’t quite capture our imagination. In my writing, specific scenes I’ve written come to mind that I’ve grappled with showing feelings. There is only one way to fix that. You have to write your way through it. Once you have words on the page (even words you don’t like), you can revise them forever.

So take your time, write what comes to mind. Examine it afterwards and ask yourself, would I feel this way in this situation? The answer may surprise you. It may be that you have no frame of reference for an emotion. Fortunately, we live in an age where you can find plenty of help framing an idea or feeling. So, write. Revise. Repeat.

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