Conveying character emotion has always been difficult for me. I think a big part of the problem is I’m not an overly demonstrative person when it comes to showing my emotions, so I feel uncomfortable doing that with my characters. But this is where fully knowing your characters, envisioning them as real people, helps.
When describing your characters’ emotions, avoid cliché’s. Instead, use fresh descriptions and reactions. These are the key ingredients to giving your characters true emotional responses.
There are many resources out there to help you with learning how to write emotion.
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi breaks down a long list of emotions and provides many reactions a character might display.
In this blog post, Ackerman discusses going beyond facial expressions when conveying character emotion. Writers should also look at what the character’s body is doing when having an emotional reaction.
I took an eye-opening class on writing character emotion from Margie Lawson. She teaches how to dig deeper into your character’s emotional reactions by going “beyond hammering hearts” and looking at visceral—basic or instinctive–responses.
Another book that looks helpful is Writing for Emotional Impact: Advanced Dramatic Techniques to Attract, Engage and Fascinate the Reader from Beginning to End by Karl Iglesias. The book is geared toward screenwriters, but his techniques can apply to fiction writers as well.
The “bible” for screenwriters is Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. McKee’s book has long been used in screenwriting classes, and has since been discovered by fiction writers as an excellent reference not only for writing emotion, but for all aspects of writing, including character development, plot and setting.
Do you find it difficult writing characters’ emotions? How do you approach it?