Writing Characters - Show Your Characters' Thoughts and Emotions

This is part of a series of articles on writing vivid characters. 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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