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.
- 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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