Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How do you capture emotion?

I’ve been considering this question quite a lot lately as I’ve been suffering tumultuous emotion syndrome this week.  I’ve experienced: joy, sadness, hurt, pain, grief, hysteria, panic, glee, comfort, pride, peace, satisfaction, and confusion; sometimes all at the same time. 
Characters should be as complex as people (yes?).  Our own living, breathing creations.  So, how do you convey what they are feeling while avoiding lists (like what I’ve done above), or bloated paragraph descriptions.
I find it very annoying when writers just tell you how their characters feel (Bella was depressed).  It’s lazy.  But it’s also very straight forward (Is the most direct route the best?).  Aren’t we supposed to be going on the journey with the characters we read about?  They should have faces, voices, color and texture, and we should be able to see through their eyes and feel what they feel.
How do you convey emotion in your writing?


  1. You show. You concentrate on how that one emotion makes you feel and let it consume you. Use that to write the reaction your characters have to their emotions without telling what they are.

    Ex: I felt nauseated. OR I clamped a hand to my mouth as bile burned the back of my throat.

    Concise, yet still portraying the scene without telling. ;) No bloat, no leaving your reader annoyed.

  2. Holly, that was pretty much what I was going to write. Heh. Put yourself in the place of that character and describe the way it feels. Depression is just a name for something. Explain what the something is in a way that the reader can relate. Sinking, losing the energy to fight, feeling like something heavy is sitting on you, confined and wandering through darkness.

    Other things can give clues to what a character is feeling. The way they perceive the world around them. If they are in an optimistic mood, they might be quicker to forgive, they might overlook annoyances in the weather or commute, they might be listening to peppy music or smiling at a moment's notice. You never said "Cindy is Happy!" but the reader gets it.

    Some writers chose to do this, others don't, but you can also use atmosphere to convey emotion. Make the day grim and cloudy if your character is feeling that way. Make breakdowns occur in rainstorms. If a character is feeling emotionally trapped find a way to make their physical space constraining. Etc. More melodramatic, but also sometimes effective.

  3. Great feedback. I always knew there was a reason my writing is extremely dark when I'm upset. :)

  4. I try to use different senses, or metaphors without using "like" or "as". It's hard to do emotions, one of the hardest parts of writing for me.