Overusing the ol’ hammering heart? I write that way too. But recently I took a deeper dive into writing emotion via your characters’ thoughts and reactions, rather than via bodily sensations. The Emotion Thesaurus is a wonderful resource and a good starting point, but too much hand-trembling, knee-shaking, and trickling beads of sweat can become exhausting to read.
There are several ways to approach the writing of emotions and I tend to be minimalist. Too minimalist! I’m still learning.
I wanted to share a few more links that have helped me get a handle on this. Bear in mind that point-of-view characters are going to narrate their experiences differently on the page, depending on all sorts of factors like personality and level of self-awareness, as well as the specific situation they find themselves in.
Keep It Fresh: 10 Ways to Show Your Character’s Emotions by Angela Ackerman
From the authors of the aforementioned Emotion Thesarus, the latter part of this article explores a few options that go beyond visceral reactions, body language, and dialogue. But this is really just the beginning…
How Fiction Writers Can Show Emotions in Their Characters in Effective Ways by Robin Patchen
If you’re caught up in writing endless bodily sensations, this illuminating article shows how to use action and thoughts to take a step back from the character’s emotions, leaving the reader to experience the emotion as a result. This is the most helpful article on writing emotions I’ve read in ages.
Emotion Without Sentiment by Alicia Rasley
“When the character cries, the reader doesn’t have to”—I read this golden rule years ago and never forgot. As the author points out: “if all the emotion is spelled out in the scene, then there’s nothing for the reader to DO, no interaction, no addition. The reader becomes a spectator, not a participant.”
3 Tips for Writing Heavy Emotional Scenes by Jami Gold
Sick of writing overwrought angsty emotional character reactions? On the flip side, ever tempted to skip writing the heavy scenes so you don’t invade your characters’ privacy? The idea presented here is to elicit sympathy, rather than empathy, in the reader. Use the setting as a whole to to generate sympathy, rather than burrowing into the character’s head and describing the melodrama.
Writing Powerful Emotion Beats in Fiction by Katherine Cowley
Includes the standard “sick to her stomach” visceral response, and lots more options as well—flashbacks, flashforwards, environmental descriptors, etc.—and a more technical formula for setting out your emotional scene.
Hopefully you’ll find some of these approaches as useful as I have. I love hearing from you—fellow writers and readers—so drop me a comment or hit the Like button, and come back soon!