Estimated reading time: 9 minute(s)
Writing emotions is a challenge for many authors. We all know how we want our readers to feel during a hard-hitting scene. The problem is knowing whether or not we’ve hit our mark. In this article, I’m going to give you a few general tips on how to translate emotions onto the page.
1 Emotion Is About Feeling
When writing emotions, how do you physically feel? You might not think it’s that important, but how your body reacts to an emotion is key. Last time you felt sad, did it feel like there was a lump in your throat? Or like there something heavy on your chest? Did your face feel hot? Your eyes must have stung with tears, right?
These physical sensations are universal. When your reader sees these kinds of descriptions, they trigger memories of their own emotional upheavals. Emotion isn’t only in the mind and heart, but in your entire body – your whole being!
Your character’s sister borrowed her sweater without asking. Your MC flies into a murderous rage and corners her in the bathroom with a hammer. Now, this could work if you were writing someone with intense (and dangerous) mental instability. But if you want your main character to not spend most of their time in therapy (or prison) during the novel, maybe tone it down.
Why? Because your readers are going to look at MC Crazy Pants and go, “I sure hope the police arrest that nutjob.” And if her vigilante sweater justice only makes other characters love her more, your readers are not going to be able to relate.
You know that sister who borrowed the sweater? She should be running and screaming bloody murder, right? Her nerves should have her quaking with fear. When she tries to open the bathroom window, she’s so rattled she forgets to unlock it.
Instead, you write her lounging on the toilet seat or rifling through the medicine cabinet for fingernail polish. Now, even if she’s accustomed to her sister trying to kill her over minor sisterly infractions, she’s still very much in danger.
If she’s somewhat calm, there should be a reason. Maybe she has her cell phone with her. Perhaps her parents replaced the bathroom door with reinforced steel. Whatever it is, if you’re writing a scene like this, make the cool-headed behavior believable!
4 Show, Don’t Tell
Ugh. We keep hearing this advice, don’t we? But it’s sound advice! “She was scared,” just doesn’t quite hit as hard as, “Her heart hammered in her chest.” Of course, there are exceptions to every rule – and this rule is no exception! (Haha, see what I did there?)
For example, let’s say your main character is friends with an aloof, super brave person. The line, “He was scared,” could carry a lot of weight here. You should still describe the aloof character’s actions and behavior, of course. But when you’ve finished, dropping that stunned, “She couldn’t believe it. He was scared!” will be a powerful realization.
Writing emotions is tough to master, but it will come easier with practice. The trick to it is to avoid the shorter, simpler route. “She was sad,” “The bedroom was small,” and “He was handsome,” all have a lot in common: They’re simple and they’re boring. Whenever you have the opportunity to paint a picture, pick up a paint brush!