Evoking Emotion in Writing Part 2

In Evoking Emotion in Writing Part 1, I talked mainly about evoking emotion by showing the effects of it instead of just telling us about it. Emotion is action, especially in writing.

In Part 2, I wanted to touch on the fact that emotions aren’t pure.

Oftentimes you’ll see written that someone felt pure rage or they experienced pure love. And maybe those sound like good ways to describe the way someone is feeling, but what do they actually mean?

Pure rage means that somebody’s super angry. But what does it tell me about them as a character? The same with pure love. What does that mean? And is any love actually pure (other than Westley and Buttercup’s love, of course)?

Simply put, human emotions can’t be contained to a singular descriptive term. They’re too complicated. Emotion is too complex to describe in real life terms, so why do we try to describe it simply when we’re writing about it?

For example, take anger. Anger is a complicated emotion. When you first think about it, it doesn’t seem complicated. Anger hits us fast, like a sudden storm, but just because it comes (and sometimes goes) quickly doesn’t mean it’s simple.

First of all, there are different kinds of anger.

There’s irrational anger, like a hormonal woman who is upset about something completely superfluous.

There’s righteous indignation, the anger someone feels when reacting to the unjust treatment of themselves or someone else.

There’s a temper tantrum, what a childish person throws when he doesn’t get his way.

There’s blind rage, where some event has driven someone to the point where anger is all they can feel and they don’t care who they hurt or what wrong they do.

The list can go on and on and on.

Notice in all of those situations, anger doesn’t just happen. Something sparks it. Something has to incite it. And that opens a whole new world of possible contributing emotions.

Anger can come from shock. Anger can come from jealousy. Anger can come from immaturity. Anger can come from feeling helpless. The list of inciting emotions is at least as long as the different types of anger.

So, all that to say that if you’re going to portray an emotion, don’t just paint a picture of one emotion. Don’t confine yourself to the single emotion your character is feeling because then they won’t feel real.

No real person just feels anger. A real person feels anger mixed with a myriad of other instigating emotions. So if you show the whole range of emotion, you’re more likely to create a more believable character, one who your readers can identify with on a personal level.

Part 3 will be about not overdoing it.

A.C. Williams

Amy Williams left a lucrative career in marketing to write novels about space cowboys, clumsy church secretaries, American samurai, and alternate dimensions. Along the way, she also discovered a passion for teaching other creative professionals how to use technology to make life easier. Through video instruction or one-on-one coaching, she teaches software, blogging, basic graphic design, and many other useful skills that help creative entrepreneurs get stuff done minus the frustration.

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  1. You gave good examples of anger and I agree that the complexity of emotion is often too simplified.

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