Writing Character Emotions

A few weeks before Christmas, I’m as frantic and busy as ever. My moods are happy, sad, exhausted, cynical, and more as I try to get all the things done. But what do my fluctuating emotions have to do with writing?

Writing Tip for Today: How can we harness our emotions to produce better writing?

Feel the Feelings

Maybe you’re not as emotional as I am, but we all tend to experience a combination of positive and negative feelings during busy or hectic times. Be a careful observer of how you react in various situations and transfer those feelings to the appropriate character in your story.

Does this character stuff everything and maintain a façade? The best writing often contrasts what the character does and says with how that person is really feeling inside. This dichotomy engages readers as they recognize their own tendencies to put up a front that belies true feelings.

As you write your character, be sure to check in with your own feelings. In a certain situation, what do you do or say? How is this different from your character? What kinds of self-talk, body language and dialogue/action best convey those feelings? Remember to write the character emotions, not just whatever mood you happen to be in at the time.

No Ranting

Another place where your moods or feelings might interfere with your writing is when you’ve been hurt. Some writers use memoir as a place to rail about all the ways they’ve been wronged. Readers usually won’t stand for a lot of self-serving complaining or blaming. Writers who have an ax to grind often find their readers fleeing for the exits.

If you do write about a person or event, don’t rant. Self-righteousness or indignation will only succeed if you are honest and genuine. Hyperbole and soapbox ranting rarely works in fiction or memoir writing. Let your readers feel with you so they can judge for themselves.

With so much anger and vitriol in society, I like to look beyond the bluster to see what’s beneath surface anger. Fear is usually the answer. Writing that explores the different ways that fear manifests in a character will likely be a better written character.

Explore the ways fear manifests in your character.

Go Deeper

As long as we’re talking about going beyond a character’s emotional surface, you can deepen your character development by delving into what makes each character tick. Ask what’s behind the character’s goal. What happened to make this character want the goal? Who or what will stand in the way?

Tease out these answers by allowing your character(s) to write you a letter. Channel each, asking them to tell you about their deepest fears, highest aspirations, worst experiences, best dreams. These letters probably won’t be included in your manuscript but will give you greater insight.

And when you sit down to write but there are a thousand errands and tasks to be done, tame your anxiety. Take your worries, your pressing needs and your critics and lock them in a box in your mind. Then have an awesome writing session as you leave the world behind to tinker with your created world, full of characters, actions and yes, feelings.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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