Emotions are hard, even when you’re actually a living, breathing human with a real brain. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have therapists, amirite?
So it goes without saying that writing characters is even harder because you have to come up with the emotional responses of a person who doesn’t exist. Conjure up their feelings out of thin air. Just make it up, and make it real.
So I’ve come up with a tool to help, or at least what I use when I get stuck. Coming up with real, believable emotions that are shown and not told was one of my biggest struggles when working on my first manuscript and this is what helped keep me organized:
How to Use This Guide
I recommend using the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It’s by no means exhaustive and more than once it’d been missing something key to my characters and I had to fly solo, but it’s a great place to start.
Under every basic emotion – and I do want to reiterate, I know that this is just an overview here – there are spots for the Physical, Internal, and Mental responses.
Phsyical: The outward stuff, the stuff other characters can see and notice and pick up on readily. Foot tapping, eyes darting, hair ruffling, etc.
Internal: These responses are the much less obvious, and are probably only noticed by the character themselves, unless there’s magical empathy powers at work or something. Stomach churning, heart racing, breath hitching, and so on.
Mental: This is much more complicated because there’s a lot to unpack, but it’s generally the first thing characters think of when they’re in this state, their snap judgement, their instant idea. “Why me”, “I’m surprised this is going so well”, “Of course [x] would say that.”
Even if your characters aren’t in the point-of-view, I still highly recommend doing this for as many that feel important, even just to get an idea of how they’re feeling and give them more depth.
Included in the drive is also a blank version where you can fill in your emotions on your own, making it easy to use no matter what your characters are feeling!
Now tell me how you’re feeling!
Share your worksheets with me on Twitter or in the comments below!