Writing Emotion

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. -James A Michener

One of my favorite reference books is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. I use it all the time in my writing, especially when my characters are experiencing emotions that I don't feel often and therefore find more difficult to bring to life accurately. The book is wonderful as it provides physical signals, internal sensations and mental responses for each emotion. But what I love most are the writer's tips along the bottom of each page.

Here are some of my favorites:

-For each scene, identify the emotion and think in terms of three...what three ways have you reinforced the character's feelings through verbal and nonverbal communication?

-When revising, look for instances where emotions are NAMED.  Nine times out of ten this indicates a lack of confidence that the emotion is shown clearly through thought, sensations and body language.

-Emotion should always lead to decision making, either good or bad, that will propel the story forward.

-To increase tension in a scene, think about what is motivating your character, and which emotions could get in the way. Introduce an event that creates the very emotions the character wishes to avoid.

-Force your characters to make choices between bad and worse. Evokes empathy from readers.

-When delivering emotional description, it's easy to rely too much on facial expressions. Instead, describe what the arms, hands, legs and feet are doing.

-To add another layer to an emotional experience, look for symbolism within the character's current setting. What unique object within the location can the character make note of that perfectly embodies the emotion they are feeling?

These are just a few, but the book is filled with great advice for writing emotion.

Off to RWA!! Can't wait to meet those of you who are attending and see Tara's book cover elevator wrap!!


  1. I'm going to have to find that reference book! Thanks for the suggestion, Jennifer. And I'm copying this advice to apply to my current proposal :)

  2. Jen - my writing class is next weekend. Your post is a perfect addition to my notes. I use a lot of emotion in writing, but feel as though I'm saying the same old things. And what a good tip about finding places where you've named the emotion - it could use a second look because dialogue should carry it. Or physical activity. Thanks. Lots of good stuff.

  3. I like your tips. what a good tip about finding places where you've named the emotion - it could use a second look because dialogue should carry it. Through it we improve our skill.

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  4. Jen-Great post. I have a lot of writing aid books, but not that one. I'll have to look for it since emotion is a huge driving force in our books. Hope you got photos of Tara's elevator wrap, and that you enjoyed every minute of National.

  5. Hi Everyone! Sorry this didn't post on Wednesday-I scheduled it, but not sure what happened:( Thanks Syndi for posting it:)
    I did get a photo of the elevator wrap and it was so wonderful to meet the beautiful author herself at RWA! I will try to upload it somewhere...somehow...where's Karen Rock???

  6. Great post - a romance without emotion wouldn't be much of a book!


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