Four Things You Need to Understand about Character Emotion

Sunday, March 24, 2013
One of the things that I look for when rewriting any piece of fiction is character emotion. That said, my understanding of character emotion and what I look for when I rewrite has changed over time.

As a new writer, I learned that I had to provide a varied emotional experience for my reader. My stories couldn’t be all plot even if that was the part that I most enjoyed writing. My character had to change and grow and part of taking the reader along on that trip was communicating emotion. One emotional note expressed over and over again would bore anyone to tears.

Number 1. Vary emotion throughout the story. Check.

After I mastered that, I learned to make sure that each character experienced multiple emotions. This kept me from creating cardboard characters with no emotional depth. Sure, my story as a whole had a full range of emotions but I still had a perky, upbeat side kick, a brooding hero and a very angry villain. Ho hum. Boring.

Number 2. Vary emotions for each character. Got it.

Then I had to learn to express this emotion in a variety of ways. I knew better than to tell everyone time and time again that my hero was worried. I had to show them. But to do this well still required variety. My character couldn’t simply chew on his lip and sigh throughout the entire story. He could but it would still be boring. I had to learn a variety of ways to express each emotion. Fortunately, I stumbled across the Emotion Thesaurus with its many lists. Now I could show worry 35 different ways.

Number 3. Vary ways of expressing emotion. Done.

My latest lesson? Emotional intensity. Some types of stories require pulse pounding emotions. Others are quiet, more sedate and measured. In most works of fiction you need to vary the intensity of the character emotions you serve up to your reader. If your characters experience only mild emotions, you risk boring your reader with the monotony. If your characters experience only extreme emotion, you may exhaust your reader. For a truly satisfying experience, the emotions need to cover the full range, peaking when things get really bad (or really good) but also having calmer, moderate moments.

Number 4. Vary the emotional intensity. Roger.

For the moment, that’s where I stand in my understanding of character emotion and reader appeal. I suspect that sooner or later a new understanding will sneak up on me and work its way into my writing. My readers will, I’m sure, be grateful.


Read more of SueBE's writing at her blog.


Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

Good thoughts, thanks for sharing them. They'll be helping for touching back to as I revise.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Since I love my thesaurus, perhaps I need to invest in an emotion thesaurus?

Thanks for the reminder, SueBE. Variety is the spice of life...

Mel Kinnel (@TizMellyMel) said...

Great post! Thanks for the reminders!

Angela Mackintosh said...

It's crazy how many things we have to remember to do as writers! We pretty much become psychologists and experts on the human condition by the time we are finished with our first novel. LOL. These are fantastic tips on emotion, Sue!

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