Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Paula looks at how we show emotions in our novels.
Emotions play a big part in romance novels. Quite often, we make our characters go through a whole range of different emotions, from the depths of despair to the heights of euphoria.
Of course, we can’t simply tell our readers how the characters feel. We have to show their feelings in some way, either externally, internally, or mentally.
Many times when I’m writing an emotional scene, I live through the emotions with my characters and I think (hope!) that by doing that, my readers will also experience the same emotions.
In ‘Irish Inheritance’, I had one scene where the hero and heroine were creeping downstairs in pitch darkness (there had been a power cut) to investigate the source of a loud crash somewhere on the ground floor. I was writing this scene late at night, and ended up feeling as tense as the characters. So much so, that I found myself glancing nervously over my shoulder a few times. Hopefully that tension was reflected in the scene for my readers to feel, too.
In my current WIP (soon to be submitted!), my hero has a near miss when he almost runs over his own son. By the time I finished writing the scene, my heart was beating as fast as the hero’s, and I had to give myself a few minutes to calm down again!
As well as experiencing the emotions our characters are feeling, there are also times when we can use our own past emotional experiences to make a scene more vivid for our readers. Of course, we may not have experienced them in the same situation as our characters – I’ve never been trapped in an underground tunnel in Egypt, or been buried by an Icelandic avalanche following a volcanic eruption, for example. However, as well as trying to imagine myself in those situations, I can also draw on my own memories of the times when I have been scared – the cold sweat, the racing heart, the images of ‘what could happen’ flashing through the mind etc.
Going back to the scene where the hero nearly runs over his son, I used my experience of a car accident about 15 years ago. My friend was driving and a large truck coming onto the motorway hit the nearside rear of the car, spun us round, and then pushed us sideways along the road for several hundred yards. My shock and fear were followed by what I can only describe as euphoria when we finally came to a standstill, without the car being crushed (apart from some large dents in the side) and without either of us being injured. By the time the police arrived, I was calm enough to tell them what had happened. It was about an hour later when I started to shake uncontrollably as I thought of what might have happened. This experience helped me to show the hero's reactions at the time of the incident and then later.
Of course, people react differently in different situations, and so I often have to think, not of how I would react, but how the character would react. Even then, I can draw on my own experiences. Personally, I would panic if I was trapped in an underground tunnel, but if the hero stays calm, I think back to an occasion when I stayed calm in a difficult situation.
Emotion is the main thing that connects readers to the characters in our stories. Therefore it’s worth spending time (and often very ‘emotional’ time) remembering and analysing our own reactions to different situations, and then trying to project these emotions to our characters so that readers can associate them with their own experiences  and thus feel what the characters are feeling. 


  1. I find that I overanalyze how my characters are supposed to feel and then have to go back and make it more immediate and more real. The first time through never works for me.

    1. I agree it's possible to over-analyse, and maybe that's why it's better to 'live' those emotions with the characters (using one's own experiences as a guide). You're right that emotions have to be immediate and real.

  2. The hardest thing for me to do with emotion is to show, not tell. To help, I printed out a body-language 'cheat sheet' and a list of physical reactions related to specific emotions.

    And my editor is constantly telling me I need more emotion in my love scenes...we don't want a play-by-play guidebook, after all! :) It's something I've really worked on in my stories.

    1. Debra, I have the 'Emotion Thesaurus' right next to my computer, but although it is useful, I don't think anything is better than living and feeling the emotions of your characters. I read a comment recently that said, "Body movement and external reactions alone will not create an emotional response from your reader. You need to pair action with internal sensations and/or thoughts to create a deeper emotional pull.'

  3. I'm so glad you weren't injured by that truck, Paula!
    I struggle writing emotion. I know I feel things deeply, but I don't put them into words in my head. Coming up with the words, new words and phrases, to describe the emotions is the challenge for me. I've read to "let the characters describe their emotions," but I seem to have to dip into my well of experiences and emotional reactions.

    1. The truck incident is still ingrained in my memory even after all these years, especially the 'slow motion' effect when I really thought we were about to be killed. At the time, that thought was actually was in my head.
      When I'm writing, I live in my characters' heads. I think I play them like an actor does, hence my beating heart after my hero's near-accident incident.
      I also 'see' the other characters from the POV of whichever character I happen to be inhabiting!