As writers know, the goal of any book is to make the reader FEEL. We want them to empathize with our characters, feel pulled in by the events and become immersed in the story. When a reader’s experience is emotional, it becomes meaningful, transcending mere entertainment.
Characters are the emotional heart of a story. Why? Because through them, writers can remind readers of their own emotional past. It becomes an intimate, shared experience that bonds them together.
Sure, readers have probably never been terrorized by a serial killer, vampire or demon in their own lives, but they know what it is to feel terror. Likewise, a roguish yet handsome highwayman has likely not pursued them in a roar of love and lust, yet they know what love and lust feel like.
As people, we have an unending spectrum of emotional experiences. We know sorrow and confusion, humiliation, fear and pride. We have experienced satisfaction, confidence, worry and dread. As writers, it is up to us to convey these feelings through our characters so that our description awakens deep and meaningful memories within readers.
Showing what a character is feeling can be difficult for writers. Here are 3 tips to help ensure readers share the character’s emotional ride:
1) Prime your readers
Spend a bit of time early on showing what has led to your character’s emotional sensitivity. Let’s say themes of betrayal are key to your book & the character’s ‘dark moment.’ If you alluded to a past betrayal by the main character’s mother in a scene before this point, then your heroine seeing an old toy from her childhood will become an instant trigger for those past feelings.
2) Focus on what causes the emotional reaction
Sometimes the best way to bring about an emotional moment is to describe what is causing the feeling. For example, let’s say Alexa likes Ethan, the boy next door. She is trying to work up the courage to show him she wants to be more than friends when she spots her rival Jessica at his locker. If you describe how Jessica touches his arm when she laughs, steps closer as he speaks, fiddles with her low necklace to draw his attention to her cleavage, etc. then your reader will feel that jealousy build even without showing Alexa’s thoughts or physical cues.
3) Think about how you might feel
If you are drawing a blank on how to show what your character is feeling, think about how the emotion you’re trying to describe makes you feel. Dig into your past to a time you felt embarrassed, or angry, frustrated, excited…whichever emotion is the one your character is currently facing. What sort of thoughts went through your head? What did your body do? Did you openly show how you felt through gestures and body language, or did you try to hide it? Then, decide if some of your experience can be adapted to your character. Emotion is strongest when it comes from a place of truth.