Emotion in the Written Word

Emotion in the written word is one of the most important things to learn when you’re starting out, or if you’ve never taken the time to learn it before. Emotion is everywhere. We feel happiness, we feel joy, we feel fear, and we express that through words, through actions, even through facial expressions.

So why should we leave those things out in the written word?

The expression of emotion brings the reader into the heart and soul of the character. Emotion is your window to capture their attention, to make them empathize with your character, to bring them to the place where, for the sake of the poor, tortured soul in the book or the happy, always joyful heart, they must keep reading. It is how you speak to the reader.

Still not convinced? Okay, read these examples.

1.  Polly was sad. OR . . .  The sorrow weighed upon Polly’s shoulders, an immovable burden.

2.  Arthur liked puppies. OR . . .  At the sight of the Labrador pups, Arthur’s squeals and giggles could not be contained.

3.  Jordan looked like he was afraid. OR . . .  Jordan’s eyes darted every which way, his skin paling to an ashen hue while he tried to hide the trembling of his hands.

4.  Kath hated apple cider. OR . . .  As the glass of apple cider was set before her, Kath felt the familiar repulsion mount in her body. Her lips curled back in disgust, her nose wrinkling in an undignified manner while her hosts eyed her curiously.

Well, those are rough, but you get the idea, right? Showing, or expressing, emotion captivates the reader. They are one with the character, even if they hate puppies or they love apple cider. I mean, really. Who could hate apple cider? That’s just crazy.

But you see what I mean? You love apple cider, but because of the expression of Kath’s emotion and her distaste for the liquid, you can sympathize. You might even want to reach through the screen and take the glass for her. Well, and drink it, of course. No ulterior motives there, you’re just concerned for Kath, right?

And Jordan. What is he so afraid of? We must read on. And Arthur! Oh, how sweet, the way he loves those puppies. You may hate dogs – who could hate puppies?! – but you can still manage a smile, a sense of sharing in the excitement for the little boy who has his hopes in the little bouncing dogs.

In short, expressing emotion builds a bridge and establishes a relationship between you, your reader and your character.


That’s the easy part. Expressing emotion goes hand-in-hand with showing vs. telling, which I won’t get into right now, but while you’re adding depth and detail to your work, it will become more and more natural to dig in to the meat of the emotion of your characters and share what YOU imagine exists in their hearts with the person who is reading your story.


Didn’t I just spend a whole blog post on that? Okay, here are a couple more examples, since you seem to want them. 🙂

5.  Rebecca was so scared. OR . . .  Rebecca fought to restrain the terror that seized her from all sides, terror that reflected the panic born from the presence of one’s worst nightmare come true.

6.  Billy felt so happy today. OR . . .  Billy’s smile stretched from ear to ear, growing by the heartbeat and fed by the excited chatter in the next room.

See what the last example does? It describes a reason for the joy and an even better window into Billy’s emotion, while remaining a simpler window than that through which we see Rebecca’s fear. That is valuable, too.

So, basically, the expression of emotion through showing rather than telling is a priceless commodity to garner in your work. It establishes characters, it reels in the reader’s attention, it jumps up and whispers, “You can’t look away now.” Note, it doesn’t yell that message. It speaks it softly, conveying it in a way that is skilled and does not need to scream to get the point across. That’s another thing that will grow with your talent – the ability to whisper a message that lands as a punch.

Maybe someday I’ll be at the point where I can speak from experience and do a whole post on that last line. 🙂


TELL ME YOUR OPINIONS! How do you express emotion in your writing? Is there a sentence you might like a second opinion on for showing emotion? Bring it on in the comments!


Published by Hannah Gaudette

Hannah Gaudette is a home-school graduate living in the hills of New England. When she’s not writing or playing with the dogs, it’s a safe bet you can find her with some other animal, like goats. She is the founder of a sustainable agriculture movement called STEWARDSHIP in central Maine. She's a life-enthusiast and advocate for food allergy awareness, youth ministry, and service dogs.

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