Here’s What I Know: Emotions

One of the most difficult things to convey in writing is emotion. Tell me that Captain Kirk was furious and hell bent on revenge and maybe I’ll believe you. Show me his lip curling, spittle flying roar, “KHAAAN”

… now you’ve got my attention. KHAAAAAAN2







I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great writers in the development of their novels. I provided emotional support, editing, developmental suggestions, and at times a bit of third party perspective. Through helping other authors with their work as well as taking an honest look at my own novels I’ve learned a few things about writing emotions. For me, the most important lesson is to let the character’s body tell that part of the story.

There are more ways to convey emotion than you or I could likely imagine and each of your characters will have their own unique way of expressing the same feelings. Give your novel a boost by utilizing these movements to capture the inner emotions of a scene.

Perhaps old Mrs. Tully pinches her lips and gives a little “tut tut” when she’s mad about something whereas the precocious farm boy kicks at a loose stone and throws his hands high into the air. Your first step in the “show don’t tell” 12 step recovery program is to figure out how each of your characters would act and react to a given situation.

Now I’m not suggesting you develop a complex spreadsheet where each of your main characters are listed out with each possible emotional reaction to a given situation. However, if you know every inch of your character’s wardrobe and hairstyle but struggle to come up with their physical reactions there’s a good chance your character is out of balance. Developing this piece of your character at least in your own understanding of them will push your writing to a greater depth.

Amanda Patterson at has created a fantastic chart that shows some possible physical reactions to emotional states. This is a good jumping off place and I recommend browsing through the list to get your creativity started. What can you add to this compendium? Can you identify one of your characters in this list?



Writer’s Exercise:

Now that you’ve taken a look through the list of emotions and a few examples of their reactions I want you to do a little practice.

Film can be a great learning tool for writers and today I want you to find a short clip from a film you know well. Dial down the volume and just watch the actors as they use their facial expressions and body movements to help convey what they’re feeling. Create a list of reactions using what you’ve seen and then write your own version of the clip being sure to include those details you found.


Best of luck and feel free to post your results in the comments. I’d love to see what you come up with!



3 thoughts on “Here’s What I Know: Emotions

  1. I really like this. Just so happens that I am currently working on exaggeration and over-exaggeration in an artistic / comic sense. Your cheat sheet would actually be a great visualization tool fro me as an artist as well thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s