Conveying emotion in your writing

One of the most crucial elements of good writing is making readers feel your characters’ emotions. Here are some of my tips for doing just that:

1. Use the right POV

  • Third person omniscient is a great narrative point of view, but unless you are using expert techniques like free indirect discourse/stream of consciousness, it’s going to be quite difficult to immerse your readers in the emotions of your characters.
  • So, if emotion is a key aspect of your WIP, I would suggest trying either first person or third person deep.
  • I’m sure most of you know how first person works. Third person deep means that the narrator is inside the POV characters’ heads, conveying all they experience and feel to the reader. This can be very powerful and is the POV I’m using for my current WIP.
  • These POVs allow the readers direct/close interaction with the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the characters’ emotions will have a stronger impact on the reader.
  • Once again, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to convey emotion through other points of view. These are just easier.

2. Use physical reactions (and metaphors)

  • My biggest tip would be not to tell the reader how your character is feeling, but rather show them.
  • Saying “she was sad” will have much less of an impact than “her body was trembling, tears rolling down her cheeks as a ragged sob broke from her lips”.
  • Use physical cues to show the reader the character’s emotion.
  • You can also use metaphoric language e.g. “there was a fist closing around her heart, squeezing until she couldn’t breathe”. But this has to be done with circumspection and skill. Using cliche or over-the-top metaphors will make your writing seem sloppy.

3. Use form to your advantage

  • Use your intuition to utilise language/structure as an extra method for conveying emotion.
  • Use short sentences for fear/anger/severe sorrow. Long, flowing sentences for sadness etc. You’ll feel what’s right for the moment.
  • Use the right diction. Words like ‘heavy’, ‘cold’, ‘dark’, ‘hollow’ etc. suit a sombre mood whilst words like ‘bursting’, ‘full’, ‘bright’ will fit a happy scene. These are silly examples, but the point is that word choice is important.
  • Use form to communicate the way you character is thinking in that moment. If their thoughts are quick, use short sentences. Rapid pacing. If their thoughts are disjointed, break off your sentences midway etc.

4. Less is often more

  • Multiple pages of heart-wrenching emotion have their place, but don’t feel like you have to elaborate too much. Your readers will probably get bored and won’t be impacted.
  • It can be very powerful to convey emotions quickly. One sentence or paragraph could be enough. And it often leaves a bigger impression on the reader.
  • Similarly, you don’t want to inundate your writing with one emotional scene after the other. Your readers need a break, otherwise they will become drained and won’t feel anything after a while. Save the tear-jerking for when it is most appropariate and it will be impactful.

5. Allow yourself to feel the emotions

  • I hate to break it to you, but writing is feeling. It’s exposing yourself to the things your characters are going through and allowing yourself to feel it completely.
  • If you allow yourself to be consumed by the emotions of your character, chances are that you’ll write a very powerful scene.
  • So, let yourself be happy and smile at your computer screen like an idiot. Be mad. Start crying. It’s a part of the writing process and it’s beautiful.

If you have any further questions about this topic (or any other aspect of creative writing) please feel free to ask.

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