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Creating Authentic Emotions for your Characters: A Guide

By: Catherine Burrows - Updated: 11 Apr 2011 | comments*Discuss
Creating Authentic Emotions For Your Characters: A Guide

The ability of an author to portray a range of human emotions is inextricably linked with their skill as a writer. Characters can cause a plot to fail or succeed and underpin almost every aspect of the writing.

Emotions are so much more than a statement of fact, reflecting someone’s state of mind and their ensuing actions. Whether a character acts from their sadness, happiness, anger or fear directs the course of events which create the framework of a story. Not only do emotions relate to a specific character but they also mirror the entire tone of a novel and colour everything the writer has to say.

Emotions- The Driving Force

The interaction of the characters stems from their emotional development. When you consider this web is entirely responsible for the evolution of the plot, you can see why emotions are so important to each character.

The emotional development of characters and the subtle changes this makes to their character and personality, chart their progress through the novel. In all successful fiction, the main character makes a literal or metaphoric journey towards the conclusion of the novel. Pepper this journey with their emotional development and you create a rounded and neatly tied together plot.

A first-person narrative will rely heavily on clever attention by the writer to the emotions. This storytelling technique puts a lot of focus on a single character. The emotions they experience and how well this is conveyed to the reader have a large effect on the tone of writing. Even if the writer is using a third person narrative, the emotional presence of the main characters still needs to be strong to keep the reader engaged and convinced.

Characters’ emotions can affect the feeling of place and time in the novel. Never underestimate how powerful emotions are in the setting of a scene. They can create suspense and drive as well as further revealing something about the character.

Getting It Right

If you create strong and convincing emotions for your characters, you will reach out and touch your readers in a way that will make it impossible for them to put your book or story down.

To create realistic emotions, you need to know your character inside and out. You must be familiar with all the tiny details that determine their background, desires, needs and motivations. The depth of character and your convincing knowledge of all their facets will give their emotional lives a 3D feel. You will be able to accurately portray why they react the way they do to a particular turn of the plot and predict what actions their emotions will cause them to take.

Emotions become stronger if you can show them through your character’s actions rather than tell the reader how your character is feeling. ‘Mary was angry’ is a statement of fact and not especially interesting for the reader. However, if you tell us that ‘Mary reeled at John’s suggestion. She grasped the vase from the table near the window and dashed it against the wall. Her face burned a furious crimson as she thundered out of the room.’ We really do know that Mary was angry but we have learnt this through the actions of the character. We have also managed to move the plot forward a little as Mary has now left the room. It’s a very economical approach to writing as you have conveyed character and action all in one neat little parcel.

Try putting something of yourself into the character’s emotional lives. When you reach a crossroad or event in the plot that requires strong emotional reactions, stop writing and ask yourself some simple questions. How would I feel? If I felt this way what would I do and what would I say? Using your own emotional responses will give your characters authenticity . Make sure that your emotional responses fit in with the things we have already learnt about the character. You don’t want emotions to jar or appear ‘out of character.’

Creating realistic emotions for your characters is a vital part of successful fiction writing. It isn’t just a component of your fiction, it’s a very potent driving force that will deeply affect the reader’s experience of the story.

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