How can you convey emotions well in writing?

P.K.Acredon

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Lots of times when I write what a character is feeling I often recall what I feel a lot and try to put that into words. But its pretty difficult. Its more telling to just say: He or She was scared, angry, or happy. Instead of showing like: His or her hands trembled. But even then I can't just say every emotion a character has makes their hands tremble. That would just get repetitive. Which is a problem of mine. Any Ideas?
 

Edoc'sil

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Not the most experienced, but there are many ways to convey emotions depending on the feeling.

Heart beating fast usually happens in any "high stress" (whatever that means for the character) situation, and that can create different reactions in different people. E.g. Flushed skin, sweating or rapid breaths. Describing the exact reaction would depend upon the character and their history.

Describing the faces of the characters can give us insight to their feelings, or the eyes are the windows to the soul after all, so do their eyes narrow in suspicion? or can they not meet another character's gaze?

It also depends upon the narrator you've chosen. Can we hear the thoughts of the characters? What are they thinking?

More nuanced might be how they react to the situation, do they fight, flight or freeze? How do they respond to other characters, do they get angry or quiet? That could change their dialogue or actions.

Hope I was helpful.
 
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Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
Mostly by a combination of show and tell but also by letting us already get to know the character enough to care. I read a book this week where a character died. She was a nice girl and we knew she would but it was still sad. Two people who loved her were with her and when she asked one (a priest) if she would get into heaven, the other observes him closing his eyes in pain. That touch - the action and the thought combined - worked well. I was in the scene, not removed, seeing and feeling her friends’ grief.
 

alexvss

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There is a lot of writing resources in the net, both paid and free. Search Amazon for books with character reactions, and google "emotion thesaurus" for free stuff.

Also, read and heed stories that you like and got you emotional. Try to understand how the author did that. You'll copy at first, but that's OK. Your voice will be developed through time.
 
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Wayne Mack

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I think of it as not telling what emotion the character is feeling, but instead invoking that feeling in the reader. Put the reader in the situation of the character and describe what is driving the character to feel a certain way.

For intense emotions, fear, anger, excitement I tend to use short sentences, often two or even one word sentences. For calmer emotions, I will use longer sentences. Also, for confused sequences, I will tend to change the character's focus a lot look at one thing, then another, hear something, smell something, but never give a full picture -- try to create a sensory overload feeling.
 

AnyaKimlin

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Take down your favourite five books from your bookshelf and study how your favourite writers do it.

I know my approach doesn't grab everyone but I also have readers who will forgo sleep to finish my work, forget to beta read and form long term relationships with my characters. My work gets reasonable grade at uni and does OK in competitions when enter them. It can't be that bad ;)
 

Toby Frost

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I agree with Jo. The descriptions of how someone feels fear can be fairly simple or predictable (they need to be recognisable, anyhow) but if readers care about characters, then they'll have the desired effect. So that means that the characters will have to be sympathetic and readers will have to want them to succeed. And I think that revolves around the characters being not just moral people but interesting and active.
 

tinkerdan

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Take a look into this.


I will caution though, as with everything else, moderation is advised.
I just read someone's first book and they occasionally go overboard with this and it's not pretty.
I think that a couple of physical cues and some great dialogue will convey the character's emotions. Also there is a difference between conveying the character emotion and being able to pull the reader into that emotion. It is great when you can nail them both, but I think it works best when subtle rather than the hammer method.
 

P.K.Acredon

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I posted this in a similar thread a while back, but this artist's guide to drawing emotions can help add a little flavour to emotional descriptions. Just don't take it too far :)
View attachment 76132
It's very high res so you have to zoom in to read it.
I can never thank you enough. This is absolutely perfect. Whoever made this masterpiece deserves to be a millionaire. Maybe that's just my over-hype but I mean it when I saw this is absolutely perfect.
 

Thiswriterinme

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There is also the idea in writing/reading, that you want to leave some things up to the reader's imagination. Using gestures like "trembling hands" can accompany a few different emotional responses. By setting the atmosphere and tone of a scene through the characters, setting, and dialogue used, the reader can then infer the emotion being described with "trembling hands" without the emotion being named outright or being over-described. This engages the reader's mind more by encouraging their imagination to fill in the gaps, so to speak.
 

AlexH

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To add to the great advice, the way a character describes something can be a good insight into how they're feeling. When a person enters a familiar room (such as their bedroom) or unfamiliar place, they're likely to notice different things depending on their state of mind. Angry and happy are completely different emotions. You can even use that description to show us something else about the character as well as the way they're feeling. Writing doing double (or even triple) duty is almost the holy grail for me! If a character walked into a messy bedroom angry, they might kick over a certain bottled drink. Yet if they were happy, they might pick it up and sip it while humming to themselves. As for what the specifics about the type of drink or bottle show us, a reusable bottle could show us the PoV cares about the environment, for example. While a pile of empty plastic bottles could show us otherwise.

I try and avoid common descriptors such as "heart raced" unless I really can't think of anything else. Many short story magazine editors advise avoiding these kinds of descriptions, particularly in the openings of stories.
 
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