For our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, we are drilling into each of the components of scenes:  description, action, dialogue, and thoughts/feelings. Today let’s reflect on thoughts as a way to reveal feelings.

For our series, we have already mentioned the importance of incorporating emotions ( emotional content in novels) and that your character should react to events/action (reflection. )  Now let’s delve more deeply into the nuts and bolts of how to accomplish these things in a scene.

You can show how a character is feeling several ways.

1.  Simply say what they are feeling.

“I am sad today.”

However, “on the nose” dialogue is usually undesirable. Also, people don’t necessarily know exactly how they are feeling or don’t want to reveal it.

2. Add body language to the action beats.

“You were supposed to do that yesterday.” Jane crossed her arms over her chest.

Done properly, body language can be effective. On the other hand, it can be open to misinterpretation. According to The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, folding your arms across your chest can be a sign of annoyance or sadness.

“You were supposed to do that yesterday.” Jane crossed her arms over her chest, then stomped her foot.

Now we can clearly see Jane is annoyed.

3. Reveal feelings through thoughts.

“I’m sorry, I meant to do that last week,” John said. Too bad he couldn’t hit a redial button on his life.

A characters thoughts can give away his feelings. John regrets that he procrastinated.

Where do you add thoughts in a scene? In addition to sprinkling thoughts into dialogue (via action beats) or during action, larger snippets can be included in times of reflection.

Example of character naming her feelings in her thoughts.

Nova is a super-spy from the future. Nova’s mom has called and says she wishes Nova could come home. Nova responds:

“You know it’s only for three more months. ”
Nova had been proud when the admin picked her for this duty and it turned out she was good at it. If she admitted it, the best in the current year, with a 96% closure rate. The psych team had warned her it would be lonely. She’d be isolated for the most part. But she didn’t feel lonely. Instead she felt guilt, because she liked this streamlined version of her life. Only her work. No distractions. No responsibilities. She missed her daughter, but only when her past life intruded. Like now.


Tips for Evoking Thoughts/Feelings in Your Character

1. Trigger a feeling by having your character encounter a sound, smell, or visual signal. It can a direct response to the stimuli.

When I returned home, Todd was baking. I bathed in the soothing scent of cinnamon and pumpkin. Heavenly, All was forgiven.

2. Flash back to a memory that evokes emotional experiences.

The first church bell announced the hour. The loud clang shook me to my core. A fear from childhood. The church bells ringing had meant I was late. When I arrived home, she would be waiting. Angry and waiting.

Writing Tricks

1. You can use syntax and punctuation to further express feelings.

For example, a run-on sentence can show excitement.

“I knew it would be a long shot, but I went for it anyway and they really liked it and I can’t believe that they gave me the trophy.”

Pauses can add the feel of someone holding back their anger.

“You. did. not. do. that.”

2. Interjections are direct expressions of feelings.

  • “Phew, I’m glad that’s over.”
  • “Oops!”
  • “Whoa! I want to see that again.”

Exercise:  Go over a scene you’ve written and see if you can add more emotional depth using some of these techniques.



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