Writing Characters - Show Your Characters' Thoughts and Emotions

This is part of a series of articles on writing characters who come to life. On this page, you'll find advice on showing your characters' thoughts and feelings. At the bottom of the page are links to more character development resources.

Recently, we've received several e-mails asking versions of this question:

"How can I describe a character's feelings?"

I suggest going beyond just DESCRIBING feelings. I suggest thinking about how to SHOW them.

Let's say my character, Margot, is angry. What do people do when they're angry? I can show Margot doing some of those things.

She might:

  • slam doors, break things, stamp around
  • shout, speak loudly, speak very quietly; become rude, sarcastic, or coldly polite
If Margot's a viewpoint character, I can also show what she's thinking. For example:

  • What a jerk!
  • I'm going to kill them.
If she's a viewpoint character, I can also show her physical sensations. For example:

  • Her face feels hot.
  • Her head pounds.
If Margot's NOT a viewpoint character, I can show her body language, from the outside. For example:

  • When she's angry, she might turn red or very pale.
  • Her nostrils might flare.
Different people react to emotions in different ways. By choosing the specific reactions of your characters (shouting versus becoming coldly polite; turning red versus turning pale), you are showing readers who those characters are. For example, think of how differently two people might act if they're physically attracted to someone:

  • following the person around, or avoiding the person
  • boasting and showing off, or becoming quiet and shy
  • staring at the person, or carefully looking away
Have fun coming up with the unique emotional vocabulary of YOUR characters.

More Character Development Resources:

  • Our online writing course, Bringing Characters to Life
  • Character profile templates
  • Story ideas starting with characters
  • More advice on developing characters
  • Other story writing topics

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