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Submitted on
July 26
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Lit Basics Week

Wow, yes, emotions; they stir us, they sometimes rule us.

For your written world to come alive this critical element must be rightly imparted into your work. Your character’s emotional state is something that needs to be grasped in meaningful ways in order for a reader to begin caring about what is happening to them. Likewise, poets who write verses that do not express an emotional range will have lines that fall flat and lifeless on their intended readers.

Emotional Range

Emotions are not one dimensional – each has a broad range of expression. For example, anger can be experienced anywhere from a mild annoyance, prompt bitter retorts, or become a barely-contained, seething cauldron; long before exploding into an unbridled rage. Often, intense feelings move through several stages all in one event.

Additionally, emotions seldom appear that are pure in their source; celebrated author and counselor H. Norman Wright, MFCC, CTS describes what most people experience under great duress, such as undergoing a tragic loss, as a “tangled ball of emotions”. Any parent will readily identify with this when an impulsive action by a child causes an apparent injury. First a leap of fear or dread coupled with compassion and concern, and then if finding the injury to be minor, anger rears at their unsafe actions which is coupled with relief. This melts to a determination to apply corrective instruction—all within a few moments. To engage a reader in any depth these complexities must be reflected in ones writing.

A Vital Part of Communicating

Communication with people in real time is an exercise in continuous involvement. We take in not just the spoken word but their accents and inflections, tone of voice, and body language. Poor communication results when any one of these elements is overlooked or ignored. Speaking to these elements in your writing will greatly improve the reader’s ability to engage in the story and enjoy a higher level of satisfaction.

A problem in conveying intent when these cues are lacking is illustrated quite well in our online writer’s community, as being misunderstood is a common experience. On another front, ‘Tweets’ from celebrities are constantly seen trending that require follow up explanations, apology or retraction because of an unforeseen consequence or unexpected public response. Many in our DeviantArt community find ‘emoticons’ helpful to properly set the mood or express raw emotions; yet even these can be misunderstood. For example there is the enigmatic :D – Playful? Gloating? Sarcastic? Without a clearly expressed context even these sorts of things are easily misunderstood.

:iconimhappyplz: ……….. :iconimnottrustingyouplz: ……….. :iconcryingplz: ………… :iconangryplz:

Body Language

Body language contains too much potential for emotional impact to ignored in your writing!

For added depth, “Shela, enraged, leapt at him.” could read; “Shela's wide-eyed, open-mouthed shock quickly deteriorated to clenched teeth; eyes narrowing to grim slits she leapt at him.” This gives a brief progression to the emotions of the moment and adds those visual elements of body language.

“Ignoring Ben’s smirk, Rosa continued; Albert at least remained non-oppositional.” adds a nice group dynamic to what could be a numbing monologue and tempts the reader to briefly reflect their own experience into what non-oppositional may look like.

“While the tone was even in Henry’s speech, one couldn’t miss the twinkle in his eyes” makes implication of a quiet or underlying emotion that the reader is invited to ‘discover’.

Let emotional feelings emerge

Allow space for expressing complex emotions

Incorporate intentional movement in a scene, including time and body language to maximize reader involvement. For example, the simple “Having read the text Lars despaired.” Could be expanded perhaps to; “Lars drummed his fingers, staring blankly at the screen. Finally, reading it again – more slowly, he searched for some nuance that would mediate the rawest interpretation of what he’d read. With growing dread, he searched again, but the naked truth found no moderation—he sunk into the remorseless clasp of despair.”

Use words and phrases suggestively

Provide rich context for added subtlety

Give your readers credit.  Allow them to discover and buy into the emotions of the character. “Having become flushed; she surprised herself.” Implies, as in real life, that a character is not always sure where the root of an emotion lies. A solid context then allows the reader to make implications from such statements. For example; "Glaven gave Marian a brotherly peck before departure – having become flushed; she surprised herself, they had been estranged for so long.” Is a much different feel than this use of it: “Having become flushed; she surprised herself – his reputation was as disfigured as his form. She returned his gaze unwavering.”

:iconcryplz: .......... :iconlaughplz: .......... :icontearsplz: .......... :icongrrplz:

Employ creative form and punctuation for added emphases

Use the hammer sparingly.
You know the hammer don’t you; one example – “I HATE you!!!”

While the writer is seeking to impart power a reader often finds it trite; this is not at all what is meant in creative punctuation. Two examples follow that use flow breaks and creative punctuation to allow readers either feel hesitancy or urgency depending on their fashion:

“I’m sorry Ma’am, I…
well, I thought better of it.”

Coming up short she choked a horse whisper;
"Stop—Stop!  Shhhh…
Shit! It's no good—run!"
The last encouragement rising to a near scream.

The State of our States

Where the writers own emotional state drives many young writers to begin expressing themselves through the written word, this source will be found to be lacking in the ability to attract wide readership in the long run. A writer must find and develop the ability to address emotional states much more objectively in order for characters to emerge that are not merely pale shadows of an author's current mood.

Well, there is much more that could be said of course, but there is a risk that an encouragement to consider a matter may become a tiresome sermon. I have much room for improvement myself. I hope my DA friends find a small nugget to grow by.

Room for Discussion

How does one write of emotional states they have not personally experienced?
What can a writer do to detach him/herself from their own state to delve deeply into another’s?
How can powerful emotional states be expressed without being trite?

Add a Comment:
HtBlack Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014
This is an amazing article. :heart:

how does one write of emotional states they have not personally experienced?
I really don't know how to answer that, but from my personal experience, there's still some way that I can portray them. Maybe not doing the greatest job? I don't know. :hmm: that is unclear.

What can a writer do to detach him/herself from their own state to delve deeply into another's?
I personally find hard writing in first person because of this, when it's fiction. It's harder to detach. I think it's important to remember that our writing isn't always about us, the writers, but about what we're writing. But I enjoy first person very much.

How can powerful emotional states be expressed without being trite?
Avoiding cliches is a good starting point, I think. For the rest, I do not yet know. :P
rlkirkland Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you for taking the time to comment and answer the thought provokers.

One way to write emotions into characters your haven't experienced is to interview others who have had those experiences.
Many young people, for example, haven't experienced grief through tragic loss. Find some family or friends who have, and interview them.
Your other points are a good start; we are all still learning. :)
leyghan Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Excellent article!
rlkirkland Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank You! :aww:
PHOENIX28920 Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Student General Artist
I am a young literature artist hoping to express my thoughts of life through my poems. I use a lot of emotion in my writing and still people tell me that I'm too young to feel such deep emotions. What do you think? Is everyone right? Am I just a depressed teenager in denial or am I just someone who emotionally sees life a little differently?
rlkirkland Featured By Owner Jul 30, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Sorry for the delay in answering: life...

Writing as a form of self-expression is a wonderful way to process our feelings and solidify our thinking on a matter.
Keep at it.

Contrary to what many may feel, young people are just as able (and according to some authorities more likely) to experience strong emotions. Denial of what is often a struggle for young people to deal with is at the root of an alarming rise in teen and young adult suicides in the last couple of decades.  

The problem doesn't lie in the capacity for youth to feel strong emotions, but in the fact that many do not yet possess the emotional tools to deal with them in healthy ways. Depression should be taken seriously. If you feel overwhelmed emotionally do not hesitate to speak to a counselor or health care professional.
PHOENIX28920 Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2014  Student General Artist
Thank you! You have no idea how much that means to me.
rlkirkland Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Ahkward Featured By Owner Jul 27, 2014  Professional General Artist
I am for sure no literature writer, but I still found this so interesting. I had a rather... interesting domestic issues as a kid if you catch my drift, and I routinely have been told by people and my counselor that how I act and what I say and the emotions I show do not match. I have been away from that house for years now, and I still struggle to understand people and they to me. 

Emotions very much confuse me and body language is the worst trouble for me. Currently I am nearing completion of a script for a comic I hope to put out, but having such troubles with understanding emotions worries me. My peers at my art school say my art reads fine emotionally, but I still worry.

I saw some comments saying movies help, would you have other suggestions? I read lots of visual novels so that I can put visual clues and emotions together and learn them better, but it is a bit difficult still at times. 
rlkirkland Featured By Owner Jul 27, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Having lived through childhood abuses also made me socially awkward for many years; and to some point still.

The best way that I could think of to explore and develop your responses to emotional cues is to make a close confidant a partner in your efforts and ask them to empower you to question any emotional states you are uncertain about. When I married I found someone that helped me immensely. You could also empower them to question you as to your emotional reactions to determine if they are appropriate for specific situations. If you are seeing a counselor it may be wise to question him/her on the advisability of such a tact.

Obviously this person would have to be a trusted and compassionate friend as it could be difficult a difficult process.

I hope you may find many years of emotional stability and peace in your life. :sun:
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