Sunday, September 2, 2012

Say It With Feeling

Savvy Author Lynn Johnson had a great post this week about editing for emotion. Her first paragraph spoke to me. You imagine the scene in your head then write it but somehow the emotion gets lost. Ms Johnson says that’s because we feel our character’s emotion and it’s hard to articulate-put it into words. I get it! She goes on to tell us there are four ways to get that emotion to your reader.
1. Dialogue
The content and word choices we choose should convey the characters emotion. What the character says and doesn’t say, how they react to one another, even when they are silent all lend to the emotional impact of the scene. It’s one of the primary ways we get to know the character.
2. Action
This includes both voluntary and involuntary actions. A tilt of the head, a shaky hand, raking his hand through his hair (my favorite), etc. can add to the drama or even provide comic relief.  
3. Body Language
Body language adds expression to the character’s words. Arms thrown wide or crossed over the chest convey meanings with saying anything. Used with the right words they can support and drive how the emotion you’re trying to convey. People don’t stand or sit still when they talk to each other. Stabbing his finger at the paper, listening to him with her hands on her hips, or throwing his hands in the air, all give an emotional perspective.
A great source is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglist. They also have a website, The Bookshelf Muse with their fantastic lists of character traits for just about every situation.
4. Thoughts and Feelings
These are what we use most, narration, interior monologue, and description of instinctive feelings. These are wonderful tools but they should not be the only ones we use.
Putting It All Together
Using these four tools for emotion creatively make your story. Use these tools together to demonstrate conflict, enhance the drama, and keep your readers engrossed.
What do you do to write with emotion?


  1. Lovely post. I absolutely understand. Especially when I'm in a male POV. I can feel it, but have a hard time finding the words.

  2. I was told to use emotional events in my life to get into the mood of the characters. Unfortunately I have some humdingers to return to in my mind and I have used them. If I get a lump in my heart or tears stream down my cheeks while I write the scene, I feel the reader will, too. It isn't easy to pull those raw moments up, but it seems to work for me.

  3. I always enjoy your posts. They push me to improve as a writer. Thank you for the post. No emotion, no interest, no point.

    Thanks Ruth!

  4. Thank you. I always have problem trying to express my characters' emotions.

  5. Great post. I have a hard time trying to find the right words to express the emotion of the scene. These are great tools.

  6. Ruth,
    Great post, thank you!
    I find that action and body language are great also for grounding the characters in their scenes so that they aren't just talking heads floating mid-air. Stabbing that paper can mean he's at the boardroom table fighting for his company, or she's flipping out at the immigrations officer because of an error on her form!
    Jenna Blue

  7. I like your statement that saying nothing also shows emotion--goodpost and thanks for the link to The Bookshelf Muse. I added to my fav writing sites.

  8. Thanks for sharing! Now I'll have to go back and read the Savvy Author post. Great link for The Bookshelf Muse. :-)

  9. Super post. I need to be reminded of these things, even when I try to recall them as I write. Something always slips through.
    Thanks for sharing this, Ruth.