Show the Emotions of Your Characters in Your Writing

“Show the Emotions of Your Characters in Your Writing” by Joan Y. Edwards

I decided to separate an earlier post Putting Universal Conflict, Universal Theme, and Universal Emotions in Your Story to simplify so that perhaps you might understand adding emotions to your stories a little better.

To pull readers into your story, put emotions in your story. Emotions make your characters come alive. One way to make your story have universal appeal is to add the tension of opposing emotions inside your character. We all feel mixed emotions every day. Should we do this? We shouldn’t do that. It’s smart to do this. How could I be so stupid? How could he be so naive? What’s the wisest choice? Do I get a choice? When a character has two or three choices and none of them seem very good, it adds tension. It makes the reader want to turn the page.

You ask me, “What are the main emotions?” Here are three lists of emotions:

Paul Ekman’s Big Six Emotions


Ekman’s Eleven Other Basic Emotions

Pride in achievement
Sensory pleasure

Robert Plutchik’s Two Added Emotions (Wikipedia)


Nine Emotions of The Sedona Method by Hale Dwoskin


All people experience emotions. Put believable emotions into your story. Put emotions that everyone that might be in the position that your character is in might experience. It will help your story reach out and hook more readers. You want your readers emotionally involved with the characters in the story. If they are emotionally involved, they’ll want to find out what happens to them.

Read this sentence: Jake was disgusted.

You might say the writer put the emotion into the sentence. The word, “disgusted,” is there, but we don’t feel the emotion. Add action, setting, and description of face and body to make the emotion come alive.

Below is dialogue I made up right here on the spot, just for you. See if it showed emotions through the dialogue, action, setting, and description of face and body.

Jake thought as he looked at the men pawing the waitress. “How can they do that?” His heart pounded inside his chest. He remembered his sister talking to him about the man who raped her. She said, “No one tried to stop him.”

Jake immediately left the bar stool. He stood in front of Preston Richards. “Take your two men and leave. Don’t ever come back.”

“You and whose army is going to make me leave,” Preston said as he blew smoke from his cigar into Jake’s face.

Jake’s three bouncers approached. They were six foot five and weighed 300 pounds. Their muscles were larger than Preston’s whole face.

Preston said, “Okay. We’re leaving. But, we’ll be back to get her later. You can count on it.”

Did I show any emotions without actually using the words for the emotions? I think I did. I hope you think I did, too.

If you find you’re using the word for the emotion: he was sad, she was angry, etc. You are telling, not showing. It’s time for a rewrite. What you wrote isn’t wrong. It’s just not complete. You’ve got it started. You named the emotion. Now it’s your job as the author to show the emotion with other words, similar to what you would do with your body if you were playing charades. You can’t use words in charades, but you can use your body and nearby props. Do that with your writing.

Use the Search and Find in your word-processing program. Find any plain emotion words and replace them with appropriate action, setting, dialogue, and description.

Keep a journal observing yourself or other people experiencing six emotions from the lists above. As an experiment, put down each emotion and write down visible signs or invisible signs (what’s going on inside the body) of this emotion. Keep this close to your computer so that when you are writing your next scene, you can use these ideas as spring boards to heighten the showing part of your writing.

Here are website links with information about emotions:

1.  Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions
2.  Pamela Berry. Clip Art Guide  Great pictures matched with emotions – Free to look, pay to use on websites and in print.
3. Feeling Faces and icons
4. Words Describing Feelings on
5. Words Describing Common Negative Feelings on
6. Aristotle’s and Robert Plutchik’s List of Emotions from Wikipedia

Thanks for reading my blog. Good luck with your writing. Please sign up for an email subscription in the column on the left.

Do something to celebrate being you!
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2011 Joan Y. Edwards

2 thoughts on “Show the Emotions of Your Characters in Your Writing”

  1. Hi Joan,

    I just added another character to a story so there would be more spoken emotion and conflict. It helps to be reminded of this.

    Linda A.

    1. Dear Linda,
      I’m glad my reminder helped create emotion and conflict in your story. Hurray for you. Do something good for you to celebrate your gift of writing.
      Thanks for stopping by regularly.
      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

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