Read me a passage from one of my teenage diaries, and you will see me turn poppy-red. How did I manage to exist with that much melodrama (and those many adjectives) filling my head?

While I wouldn’t seek a return to my old fashion of writing, sometimes I do wish I could channel the emotions of sixteen-year-old me. One of my biggest challenges in writing is the creation of drama, conflict, and negative emotions—not surprising, when I realize that these same conditions are ones I try to avoid in my regular life!

Luckily, you don’t have to fall into the tortured-genius category to write with emotion. Below are some tips for diving into emotional writing, while floating through life.

  • Set a background mood: our senses have more control over our emotional state than we may realize. Try to create an atmosphere that evokes the emotion you want to write about. Control for lighting, sounds, and smells. Try lighting candles to feel more romantic, listening to violin solos to feel sad, opening a window or working outside to feel cheerful, listening to recordings of rain to feel melancholy. Remember that the influence of senses over emotion is very individualized. I once had a professor who would get furious at the scent of vanilla (his ex-girlfriend wore vanilla scented everything), while most people find vanilla to be a warm, soothing fragrance. This leads us to our next point …
  • Draw from your memories: whether you experience a certain emotion frequently or not, you can probably think of at least one example when you felt that way. Dredge up the memory. Chew on it. Stew on it. This is the time when you are allowed to hold a grudge, wallow in regret, or hug nostalgia to your heart. If you are in dire need of inspiration, you might call a close friend and ask them to help you remember a time when you felt a certain way. Recently, I was complaining to a friend of mine about how I can’t write arguments because I rarely get angry. She started going through a reel of things she has seen upset me over the years, and by the end of it, I was feeling pretty hot under the collar. Even better than relying on memory, you might try to …
  • Take notes when you are experiencing a strong emotion: many writers find putting their emotions on paper to be therapeutic. The practice can also be useful. Just as an artist might pause to make a quick sketch of an interesting scene as they pass by, so a writer can document the sensations of anger, fear, love, relief as they experience them. The details will come in handy later, when you are ready to paint your masterpiece.
  • Befriend your characters: something you should already be doing, but it is highly applicable here. Befriending your characters means understanding their motives and sympathizing with their feelings. In life, we are often quicker to align our own emotional state with the emotional state of someone we care about, so caring about your characters will make it easier to invest in their emotions. As well as familiarizing yourself with your own writing, you may benefit if you …
  • Read other writers: studying other writers is a good way to pick up on technical ways to communicate emotion. You might observe that excitement and anxiety are conveyed in short, choppy sentences, that characters who are happily in love can prattle along through pages of dialogue about nothing in particular, that the impact of grief or loss can be intensified by repetitive words. Just be careful not to perpetuate cliches. One of the best ways to avoid cliches is to …
  • Play to your strengths: emotions belong to individuals. They are not isolated incidents. Instead, emotions follow patterns that follow our personalities. My natural response to misfortune is to develop something of a hysterical sense of humor. I do well to squeeze out a single tear when I’m sad, but my eyes flood when I’m frustrated. There is a certain height of “I am so happy; all is right with the world” where I just get sleepy. Study the pattern of your emotions and use that pattern in your writing. Not only will you find it easier to convey emotions this way, your writing will feel more fresh and genuine.

Which emotions do you find most difficult to capture in your writing? Do you have other tips for writing with emotion? Feel free to leave a reply below!


6 thoughts on “Emotional Writing for the Even-Keeled

  1. I know that “I’m so content that I’m just going to take a nap” sensation! The absence of worry is a good, good thing.


  2. This post is great! I struggle most with making all characters real – having emotional depth and not simply writing caricatures. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here with befriending your characters as I think sometimes I’m too invested in one or two characters to the detriment of others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right! Character development is a toughie. I hadn’t thought about the difference between the energy I invest in developing characters I like vs. the characters I care less about. I’ll have to be on alert for that in the future!

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment (and for scrolling to the bottom of my homepage and finding this older post! = D)


  3. Pingback: GOOD LUCK

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