May 24, 2016

Character Emotions-How to Create

By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief for Southern Writers Magazine

Adding emotions to our characters is not always easy. Or is it?

If you are a parent, you know your child can turn on an emotion at the drop of a hat. Tell a three-year-old no, and that bottom lip comes out automatically. Within a matter of minutes, the child’s sadness can morph into a full-blown temper tantrum.

Since this child has never had acting lessons, hasn’t been to college and obtained a Master’s in Creative Writing, then we must assume emotions can be created from within.

When we are writing we need to look at the emotions our characters are feeling and show those emotions. Are they supposed to be happy, sad, funny, angry, crying or laughing? How does that emotion feel? Can we show that emotion to our readers without telling them the emotion’s name? Can we get them to feel that emotion along with us?  Ah, there is the rub. So what can we do to show and not tell?

Showing anger for a writer can be difficult, but of all who seemed to have mastered writing anger in a screenplay was Oliver Stone for Al Pacino in Scarface.

Actors put themselves in the characters shoes in order to act the part. As writers, we need to put ourselves in the characters shoes. We do this by going into our memory banks and determine which emotion it is we need. Is it the angry emotion? Then we can think back, when was the last time we were angry? Why were we angry? How did that anger feel? What did our face look like, what did our eyes look like? What were our thoughts? 

Pulling the emotions that we have used in real life and writing them for our characters creates a way for our readers to feel the emotion, which draws them into our story. The reader remembers this scene because his/her emotions are attached. The scene comes alive and is believable.  

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