Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Writing with Emotion Series – Part Two

How to Weave Emotion into Fiction

Emotion is important in fiction but there is always a danger of overdoing it. I’ve read some books where every page is a drama and the main character is always in a state of heightened emotion. I discard these books after a few chapters as the feelings are too much to be enjoyable.

Show not Tell
This is one of the cornerstones of writing and is especially applicable to emotion. Try writing an emotional paragraph and then take out any emotions mentioned by name – such as joy, hatred, anger, hope – and see if the meaning is retained by the rest of the content. Have a look at these sentences to see the difference between showing and telling.

· Jenny was jealous when she saw Lydia in the dress she wanted.
· Jenny’s insides curdled as she saw Lydia in the dress she wanted.

Use Body Language to Portray Emotion
Instead of saying the character was ecstatic or sorrowful, use body language to portray the meaning. Here are some examples to demonstrate the power of this method:

· Liam was disgusted by the awful stench.
· Liam wrinkled his nose and took a step backwards as the stench hit him.
· Jessica felt betrayed when she saw Simon with another girl.
· When Jessica saw Simon with another girl, it felt as though trust and faith were leaking from her heart.

Don’t Overstate Emotion
Melodramas are the only place for overdone emotion. Don’t use terms such as very excited or extremely irritated. If the emotion is strong, let the character demonstrate it by flinging a plate or cart-wheeling across the room.

Write in the First Person
An emotional piece often works well when written from the first person point of view – in other words, from the “I” point of view. The impact is generally greater as you can portray the feelings from the inside, as opposed to looking on.

Imagine Yourself in the Middle of the Scene
If writing an emotional scene, close your eyes and picture it unfolding it in front of you. What do you see? What expressions are on the characters' faces? What is their tone of voice? What are they doing? What is the main emotion? Are they restraining themselves or letting it all hang out? Once you can see it, write it.

Practise Writing Emotional Phrases
Take clichéd expressions and rewrite them into fresh language. Here are a few examples.

· He broke her heart.
· He took a scalpel and sliced her heart into two halves.
· She jumped with joy.
· Exuberance lifted her into the air

The Rise and Fall of Emotion
Make sure that emotions rise and fall throughout your book or story. This is how life unfolds and the story needs to be believable. Introduce enough emotion to keep the reader’s interest but not so much that it becomes tiring. Emotion should increase in intensity throughout the book until the final scene where all the threads are drawn together into a satisfying conclusion

Recommended Reading
Karen Kingsbury puts plenty of feeling into her books and tells stories of relationships and hope. Nicholas Sparks writes heartrending love stories, many of which have sad endings. He is a master at writing emotion. Richard Paul Evans is another gifted writer whose books have strong emotional appeal. If you want to improve your writing, take some of their books out of the library and read them carefully, analyzing the way they write.


If you prefer short stories, you can have a look at one of mine that placed first in the Faithwriter’s Weekly Challenge in November last year. It’s full of emotion but tender and not overdone.

If you have a piece of “emotional” writing you’d like me to look at, feel free to leave a comment or contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.


Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Visit her at Debbie Roome or read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.


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1 comment:

scw1217 said...

I just read this and part 1. Very good thoughts! I don't write fiction stories, but I do read a lot and can see how what you've said applies to the books I liked the best. Thanks for the thoughts.