Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Creating Believable Emotion

Did you know I have given certain books five stars that didn't have much emotion? They had action, a fun plot, great historical details, etc. Therefore, because I enjoyed it, the book got five stars. However, I didn't come away with any emotional bonds to the characters whatsoever. 

Why? The characters themselves didn't have much emotion. I didn't feel like I was looking at the world from their heart. Oh, it was their POV all right. But not their heart and soul. So a main character died - whatever, he was just part of the action. I never got to look into the depths of his heart anyway.

Personally, I choose to write from the heart of my characters. And here are a few things I've learned about making their emotions well up inside both me and my readers. (Granted, I'm always trying out new techniques! Every new book is an experiment.)

  • Interview people of the same gender as your protagonist. For example, I write about male protagonists. Therefore, I've asked some younger guys and men about how they would react to certain situations. Their answers are always surprising! You'd be surprised at how guys think when it comes to emotional moments, romance, big promotions, etc. 
  • Interview people who have been in similar situations. Does your protagonist work at a cafe? Maybe he/she is struggling with a particular illness. Maybe he/she is heartbroken losing a fiancee (as in the way the word originally meant - betrothed) or spouse. Talk to 'em! Get their perspectives.
  • No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. This is a 100% true. If you aren't crying/emotional as you write an emotionally-packed scene, something is wrong. Turn on appropriate music, put yourself in the character's place, and try again. (A lot of readers have told me about the places in my books where they have cried. Interestingly, it is always the same place I cried too.)
  • Music. Yep, write the first draft listening to emotion-appropriate music. Then reread it without music to ensure you get the same effect both times.
  • Use scenarios you have personally witnessed. In From the Dark to the Dawn, I recreated scenes (especially prayer scenes) that I had been (more or less) in. It was definitely more emotional because the character was in my place.

What techniques do you use?

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog or Facebook to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!


  1. Great post, Alicia! I will definitely use this advice. :)

  2. Good ideas! Do you have any music recommendations?

    I personally find it a challenge to "wind down" after writing tense/emotional parts, especially when called away mid-scene. (Cue the phone ringing :D ) These sections are usually the most enjoyable, though, to write and to read.

    1. Soundtracks are usually helpful! :) That and hymns.

      Oh, I know! I was on an emotional high after writing the end of "Remembering the Alamo"...and then the call to the everlasting laundry came! :)

  3. This was a helpful post, Alicia. Thank you for sharing! I've made playlists for all my stories and it really helps to listen to it right before I start writing/editing, or even sometimes while I'm writing--especially if I'm writing an intense scene. :-)

    His Princess,

    1. Thank you - I'm glad it was helpful! Playlists can be very helpful, especially, as you said, for intense scenes.


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