Tuesday, November 2, 2010

5 Aspects of Emotions Writers Need to Know

Emotions are key to expression, conscious states, decision making, creativity, and the core of our being. The ability to ‘move’ our readers, to connect, to entertain, etc. requires writers to master the expression and transferal of emotional states. The following aspects of emotions are laid out for that purpose.
1) Brain state or Mood: Without going into the depths of electrochemical details lets stick with the effects of mood. We all know what moods are, but there is an important aspect to mood that writers need to know: Moods are resistant to change. Someone in a bad mood will not react strongly to good news while they are likely to overreact to bad news and vice versa. Having a character suddenly jump from mood to mood will make them seem improbable or appear to have a ‘mood’ disorder.
2) Feeling: Emotions: happy, sad, angry, etc. are all states of consciousness that a reader can actually physically experience, but it takes effort. The key is that if it is your intention to have a ‘happy’ reader you must do more than write the word ‘happy.’ Instead, you have to create a set of humorous, amusing, joyous, etc. events and atmosphere that makes your protagonist believably act happy and your empathizing reader experience happiness. Certainly you can make your reader happy without empathy, but it sure helps.
3) Body language: Emotions have associated forms of physical display. We laugh and smile when we are happy. Likewise we frown and cry when we are sad, I don’t, but some do. The key to body language is that it is a much more effective way to ‘show’ an emotional state than to ‘tell,’ e.g., ‘Tears streaked...’ vs. ‘She was sad.’
4) Emotional behavior: Another way to ‘show’ an emotional state, and make it visceral is to have your characters do emotional things. For example have them throw a chair, slam a door, make a rash decision, give a high five, hide under the covers… Again ‘showing’ gets the reader into the action, and feeling the emotion.
5) Emotional Dialog: How people say what they say. Again, ‘show’ the emotion by what is said, and not by what is ‘told.’ “How am I? Ice cream cones with rainbow sprinkles Daddyo.” Vs. “I’m okay.” The ways we write dialog should give our character’s voice richness, depth, and ‘identifiable’ feelings that get readers to gladly suspend disbelief and feel the love.


  1. Nice breakdown. :) I think three and four are very close to the same, unless you're meaning that one is more reactional and done instintively, and the other a choice, done with intent?

    Either way, great job. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  2. Thanks Angela. A good point. I think that body language is a universal language and more precise than other forms of physical actions. Although, some emotions are expressed well by action (anger comes to mind), others by body language (surprise comes to mind).

  3. Very smart points and definitely something I need to remember when I'm writing. My problem is that I'm an emotional teller instead of an emotional shower. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Good of you to remind us of these emotional elements, Len. Another point is that manipulators are good at hiding their feelings and using other's feeling to obtain their objectives. Manipulators have a lot of self-control even if they are dastardly.

  5. Many of my reviewers told me to show more emotion in my writing. This post really helps. I'm bookmarking it for future reference. :) Thanks!