Considering Emotions, Part 2: Creating Characters

Glass-Case-of-emotionThis post is the second installment in a two part series regarding the role of emotions in writing. The first post explored the different emotions our readers are experiencing (or that we want them to experience) when they read our work.

In this post I will open up a discussion about considering emotion when developing characters in our stories.

But before I delve into today’s topic, I’d like to quickly recall how contemplating different human emotions before you start writing can help you get in touch with your ideas and make connections therein.

With busy lives and technology constantly separating us from genuine connections – both with others and ourselves – it can often be a struggle for us to even list off different emotions. I recommend Googling “list of emotions” or “list of feelings” and reading through the results.

Exploring different emotions is crucial to the writing process because it’s not necessarily what happens in a story that hooks us, but the cognitive response that the characters experience and our ability to relate to those responses.

Start With a Feeling

Do you have writer’s block? Are you struggling to think of a great storyline, but can’t seem to scare one up? The best advice I can give you is to start with a feeling.

Check out that list of emotions you Googled. Go through each of the words listed – Doomed, Appalled, Blissful, Prideful, Disappointed – imagine someone who might be feeling these things. What would lead them to feel this way? How long have they felt this way? How does this feeling make them act toward others, themselves?

Now we are getting somewhere!

Perhaps after reading that list you now have a character who is feeling prideful about a new dress she just bought in order to impress a socialite she hopes to befriend. While she’s out wearing the dress, she feels “above” all the “peasants” wearing non-designer attire, but when she’s alone, she cries herself to sleep.

Now I’m just playing and spitballing of course, but do you see how we already have a character slightly developed and even a bit of a story falling into place? All from picking one emotion: pride!

Come Back to The Feeling

As your story develops, don’t forget to come back to that emotion. In fact, you might consider giving the character a certain quirk that accompanies the emotion – something like twirling her hair when nervous or sticking her nose up when feeling prideful. Attaching a mannerism to a feeling can really humanize your character.

Events + Feelings = Whole Story

Think of your story as a scale – one side is Events, the other side is Feelings.

You want your scale to be equal, so if you put weight into the events, be sure to try and balance it out with feelings; the two complement each other.

As certain events unfold throughout your story, your characters react and develop. These reactions spur more events, which produce more feelings. It’s a beautiful thing.

What other elements do you consider when developing emotions for a character? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

Image Credit: Ultimate Reviews 

Considering Emotions, Part 1: When Writing to Others

List of EmotionsWriting has a lot to do with understanding basic psychology. If we want our characters to be well rounded, or our copy to be genuine, the best place to start is by exploring natural human emotions and responses.

If you are somewhat new, or even rusty, on the subject of psychology consider checking out the links listed on this website: Psychology and Society

Of course, to some extent we all have a basic understanding of emotions, but with our busy schedules and the advent of technology, it’s often difficult to truly feel “in tune” with our emotions, let alone the emotions of others.

Sometimes the best way to get in touch with our own emotions is through journaling. I try to make it a habit to journal as much as possible. If you don’t have time to keep a journal, try taking moments throughout the day to check in with yourself and assess your feelings.

Finally, before you are about to write, Google search for a list of emotions. Sometimes I will just look at the image results and find the various charts to be helpful.

It might seem silly to read these lists of familiar words, but it can honestly help to put you in the right mindset for brainstorming. In this first post of a two post series we will explore the importance of considering emotions when writing for others.

Emotions You Want Them to Feel:

When you are writing something like a blog post, email campaign, TV commercial, etc think about what kinds of emotions you want your reader/listener to feel. What kind of language can you use to leave your audience feeling jubilant, hopeful, energized, or nostalgic?

Of course, deciding which emotion to draw upon depends on how much creative license you possess. If you are given an assignment in which you are unsure what kind of emotion you should look to draw out of your reader, consider the company for which you are writing and get a feel for the tone of their brand.

Emotions They May Already be Feeling:

Sometimes writers forget to consider what their audience might already be feeling – this notion is just as important to consider as what you would like for the reader to feel. Of course, we can’t read minds, and we shouldn’t try to pander to every possible emotion – this leaves no one satisfied. Instead, think about what your reader or listener might be doing when they come across your work.

For example, if you are writing an email, consider that your reader may be feeling stressed, overwhelmed, tired, etc. In this case, you’ll want to create only short, useful copy. Also, make sure your information is well organized so you take away any extra work for your reader.

What kinds of emotions do you consider when writing to others? How does this consideration change the way you write? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Stay tuned for Part 2 – Considering Emotions When Creating Characters. 

Image Credit: Tracy Rosen