Characters: Feeling the (insert emotion here)

I noticed something recently about my writing process. I am always concerned about my readers becoming bored, so I focus on going from action to action to keep up the pace, while blipping over emotions. (Is blipping a word? I guess it is now.) Especially when it comes to negative emotions. Something bad happens? Then what does the character do next? Which is important, certainly, but how does the character feel about it?

It’s hard for me to get emotionally raw with characters. It’s like there’s a wall there that I either have to chip away at or just plain blow-up. For efficiency’s sake I’d rather just blow it up and get it over with, but how do I do that??

My psychology background raises its head. Is there a reason why I’m hesitant to dive into a character’s emotions? Do I have a deep-seated childhood memory that’s preventing me from emotional exploration? Can I blame my parents somehow? Blah, blah,blah…

Then the inner critic chimes in: I don’t explore emotions on the page because I don’t want to be judged. I’m a wimp. Just lay it all out there! Why not?! Am I emotionally disabled or something?! My characters read like robots devoid of any emotional climate! Aaaarrrrgg!!!

Then I realized, in my own emotional life, I often need time to think about what I’m feeling. Especially with the “negative” emotions. Sometimes I feel like I’m in an uncomfortable state but I don’t know what it is. Anger? Fear? Disappointment? A combination of these, or something else? I need time to figure it out sometimes.

One breakthrough I had as an adult is that it’s okay to have “negative” emotions. They have a purpose. I’m learning to accept them. It’s a slow process. And in my writing, I find I especially “blip” over negative emotions, like I want my characters to always be happy. Which would be nice for them, I guess, but it would make for a pretty bland story.

Maybe with my writing I need to get all the action down on the page first, then work on my characters’ emotions. How would the character feel at that moment? How would that feeling manifest itself? How can I describe it?

I guess that’s another purpose of a second draft (and a third, and a fourth…).

And if you have any ideas for how to blow-up emotional walls around characters, I’d be happy to hear them.


9 thoughts on “Characters: Feeling the (insert emotion here)

  1. I agree that the emotional development / plot of a character is an essential component in good literature (writing). As a reader I will have an emotional reaction to the action/plot – and its a joy to compare MY reaction to the characters. If the writing leaves this out, I feel like something is missing. The emotional reaction to the plot also may/should/has to — inform what happens next.

    Could your avoidance of emotions in your writing, also have influenced why you choose children’s literature as a focus? Kids stories typically (I may get in trouble for suggesting this) avoid the complex and negative emotional challenges??


    1. Hmmm…Interesting point. I would say some children’s literature is all about (or at least includes to some degree) kids figuring out what to do with their emotions. And even with this, you don’t have to necessarily go too deep.


  2. Dana, I found this to be very interesting and also very true for my writing. Emotion happens to be my weakness in writing, so unfortunately I don’t have any answers for you. I will keep an eye on your posts and hopefully pick up a hint or two on how to give my characters more emotion. Thanks. Carol


  3. Thought provoking. When I live and do, I’m not acknowledging each emotion. It is there, and contributes, but is rarely called out.
    I think most of us are like that. I like how you’ve called it out.
    The next step though, how do you express the emotion without using bland words like “…he said, sadly”.


      1. I think this is where “show don’t tell” comes in. “…he said sadly” is telling. Instead “show” that he is sad by telling the reader what he is doing and thinking. You just have to be careful here and not use cliches such as having a tear falling down his cheek. Does he plop down on his bed and bury his head in the pillow? Does he write in his journal? (Just a few thoughts here.)

        Liked by 1 person

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