We read books to go on an emotional journey and love the stories best where they make us feel something. We connect to the characters and what they’re experiencing. We love books that make us laugh and cry and feel everything in between. But writing those emotional scenes is difficult and can be downright scary to attempt. After all what if what we write is laughable? So how do we write strong emotional scenes? Let’s take a look at some tips.
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. You have to be emotionally engaged in your writing for your readers to have an emotional response. Imagine yourself in your character’s shoes. How would you feel? How would you react? What would you feel?
Have a central emotion. Your writing should have emotional layers (more on that in a bit), but it should be built off one main emotion. Each emotional response will be filtered through this central emotion. This will help you to have focus. For instance, your character may be working with anger. They may also feel fear and shame, but those are filtered through their anger response.
Show, don’t tell. Use your characters’ actions and dialogue to paint the picture. Is he clenching his jaw? Is she tugging at her hem, eyes down? What does this tell us about what they’re feeling? And let your descriptions set the mood for your setting and in each scene.
Avoid the melodrama. Your characters shouldn’t literally jump for joy or break down sobbing at every little thing. This will induce eye rolls in your reader and they may put down your book for good. No one likes a drama queen. Especially not for 200 pages. Not everyone reacts in the extreme and as the writer you must know how each character reacts to each plot point. Employ subtlety and paint your emotions with a finer brush.
Use subtext. Sometimes what your characters don’t say is more important than what they do say. Use subtext to portray emotions as well.
Don’t skip these scenes. You cheat your reader by skipping over big emotional scenes. These scenes matter and even though they may be scary to write, they’re vital to your character’s journey.
Now let’s talk about layering emotions using the example of anger, fear, and shame we mentioned earlier. Begin with your central emotion. So your character feels the heat of anger flushing his face. We see him clenching his jaw and glaring at the antagonist. But maybe he’s angry because the antagonist hit upon his insecurities, that he’s not good enough to be fighting with his friends, that he’s flawed. Our character then feels a flash of fear. What if the antagonist is right? Sweat breaks out on his neck. Then he feels shame hit him like a load of bricks. His stomach drops and his heart starts pounding. But all these feelings feed into his anger. Adding these feelings adds complexity and realism to your story.
Emotional scenes may be intimidating to write, but can be the best scenes in your whole story. Don’t shy away from them. What are your favorite emotional scenes? What made them so good? Comment below and happy writing!