How to Write Better Emotions

Alright, so I actually bought a book about this from Half Price Books, but I’ve only gotten to the second chapter when I no longer had time for it. I’ve never gotten back to it, but I think I got the gist of what the book was trying to say (It was categorized by emotion, so if you knew one emotion you knew the principle that the author would apply to all other emotions). So, here is how you write better emotions!

First, show, don’t tell. “Golly gee,” you might say, “literally every writing advice column ever has said ‘show don’t tell.’ Why don’t you guys shut the fuck up about it already?” Well, I’m sorry, but we’re not going to shut up about it. It’s an important part of writing! Very important! Like, as important as air.

Some people don’t understand the “show, don’t tell” thing, so I’m going to explain it. It’s very simple. You show us what is happening, you don’t tell us. I think people get confused because you’re obviously telling us everything, that’s how the book is written, but that’s not what is meant by this.

Telling: Alice was a very nice girl. Everyone said she was nice, but it embarrassed her when they told her so.

Showing: Alice loved baking, so sometimes she would bake just for fun and take the cookies down to the homeless shelter to share. Everyone at the shelter would tell her how sweet she was, but that made her blush. She just wanted to make sure that everyone had a chance to eat something baked with love.

See? That second one made me tear up a little. Granted, my allergies are really bad and are totally 100% behind the tearing, but doesn’t the second one make you like her so much more? The author isn’t saying “Alice is nice, ACCEPT THIS AS REALITY” like some authors do *AHEMCOUGHCOUGH* STEPHANIE MEYERS *COUGHCOUGH* but she’s showing you how Alice is a genuinely nice person. You believe she’s a nice person, because she bakes cookies for the homeless.

Now, see what showing is verses telling? You can’t make a person feel what you want them to feel when reading your novel if you’re just telling them what to feel rather than making them feel it.

Another example:

1. I was so sad. He broke my heart, now all I could do was cry. I would never be happy again.

2. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sit still. It was like someone had carved out a hole in my chest. My heart ached, and it felt like something was missing. I felt like my eyes hadn’t been dry since he’d left. Why did he leave like that? He was my something special, the person who made me better. Could I ever smile without him by my side?

I’ll leave you to guess which is showing and which is telling.

One way to practice is to write poetry with short verses. You’ll learn to convey emotion better just because you know you can’t write “I am sad” in a poem. Here’s an example of how it would help:

I’m alone for the last time in the prison of my bed,
holding the tool for my escape.
The silence of the night holds no comfort for me,
and my dreams are filled with terrors.
The house is crawling with the past,
their ghosts constantly haunt me.
I close my eyes for the last time;
maybe I’ll see them again in another life.

Not gonna lie, just picked a poem at random from my poetry folder, I wrote this recently and didn’t really look back at it, I was like “hmmmm, did I write this?” Dur. I’ll post the full poem tomorrow, but here is how that would look if you were telling it in prose.

I lie in bed awake, a knife in hand. I can’t sleep for the nightmares. The house is filled with reminders of the past, always reminding me of the ones I’d lost. I close my eyes and slit my wrist, hoping I’ll see them again.

Obviously, there isn’t so much showing verses telling happening here, but the first one is definitely better at describing, though it’d need some better translation to prose to avoid being purple prose.

That’s about it for the overall lesson, but I’ll list eight (because I’m too lazy to do ten) common emotions and examples of showing verses telling for each one.



T: I was so angry at him! How dare he?

S: My fist clenched and I restrained myself from hitting him. He didn’t deserve to be hit, nothing so tame as that. If he died a thousand times it wouldn’t make up for what he did. How dare he?



T: I was so confused. Where was I?

S: I looked around at the street signs. None of them were familiar. Was I supposed to go up First Street, or down Peach? I needed to get to get to Platform 9 ¾, but I’d taken a wrong turn. Where the hell was I?



T: I’m so excited! Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back!

S: I had to restrain myself from jumping out of my seat. I watched as the seconds ticked by, just a few more minutes now! I listened impatiently as the professor ended class, and shot out as soon as he dismissed us. Pumpkin Spice Lattes were finally back, and I was going to get one!



T: I was so jealous. That bitch had the best hair.

S: She thought she was so great, with her perfect locks and her perky smile. Everyone knew that she wasn’t naturally blonde. She couldn’t be. No one naturally looked that good.



T: I was so lonely. I just wanted a friend.

S: I hugged myself silently. The other kids played on the other side of the playground, but I sat alone on the cold bench. When I invited them to my birthday party last week they laughed at me, so I didn’t ask to play now. I just wanted a friend. Why’d they have to laugh at me?



T: She was consumed with a passion she’d never known before. She had to kiss him everywhere.

S: She kissed him deeply. She wanted to hold him forever, but she couldn’t stop moving; his tongue made her squirm against him. She had to kiss him everywhere. His name was on the tip of her tongue, ready to spill out as he moved inside her.



T: He was resigned to working in an office the rest of his life.

S: He stared at the blinking line on the screen. He’d typed up his resignation letter, all he had to do was print and sign it. He sighed. What was the use? He was too old to get another job, but too young to retire. Without thinking about it, he deleted it and closed the document. Another ten years in the cube farm wouldn’t kill him.



T: The old man was sad. All his friends were dead.

S: He sat on his porch and watched the children play. He had children of his own, and grandchildren enough to fill his house twice, but he missed the conversation of his friends. Tom from high school, Allen from the factory. He lived next door to Greg for thirty-two years, but they were all gone now, nothing but tombstones and memories. His friends were all dead, and he was counting down the days until he could join them.


If you want to improve your skills, take the telling portions of all of those and write how you would show those emotions. Feel free to make a blog post about it and link to it in the comments!


Don’t Lose Momentum While Writing!

I cannot stress this enough. I wrote the first quarter of A Game of Madness then put it aside, then picked it up again this summer and wrote up to the halfway point. Now I have to start again with no idea what to write or how I should go about getting to the end of the novel. I forget what happened previously and the characters’ voices are all but lost in my head. It’s going to be like pulling teeth to get started again, and I need to finish it before November.

When you start writing something, finish it. Even if it’s only 100 words a day, that’s better than nothing. If you can’t find any inspiration to write that day, don’t wander from your story. Take a character quiz or draw a map of your world; anything to stay invested in it. I’m beating myself up for letting so much time go between when I started writing A Game of Madness and now. I need to finish it, but the spark is gone. I need to make a new spark and get my ass in gear!

I have all the time in the world, but I’m procrastinating to avoid starting to write again. I’m hoping that once I get some more reviewers, I can give a little less attention to publishing Kiss of The Fey. I’ve read that there’s no use marketing a book if it’s the only one you’ve published, so that’s why I want to write more in the first place. Once I get the ball rolling again I should be fine, but in the meantime I’ll continue trying to remember why I even started writing this anyways. :\

Make Me NEED to Read Your Book

There is one specific genre that I find most compelling to read. It’s not really a genre, even, just a broad plot line. When I read these stories (when done correctly) I’m gripping the edge of my seat (figuratively) and biting my nails (sometimes literally) and reading as fast as I can until I get to the end.

One such book is Inside Out. To get an idea of how amazing this book is, it has no one star reviews on Amazon. Not a single one. There are 147 reviews, and none of them one star, even though the book has been out since 2010. I call that impressive. (The second book only has 90-some reviews, but it has only three star reviews and up!)

The next such book is Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. I might be a bit biased because I LOVE Juliet Marillner, this book has 0 one star reviews out of 102 and has again been out since 2010. I’ve reread this book multiple times, and like Inside Out, it’s one of the ones that made the trip to college with me.

So, what genre are these books? Well, they’re both young adult. Inside Out is science fiction and Heart’s Blood is fantasy, and both have romance. The main character in Inside Out is a lower-class janitor of sorts and the main character in Heart’s Blood is a traveling scribe. What is so similar between the two stories?

Well, it’s frustration. The characters make bad choices, choices you want to throw a book at them for. They don’t do what you want them to. They’re like the blonde in the horror movie who goes through the door you know has a serial killer behind it, you just want to yell, “YOU IDIOT, GET OUT OF THERE, STOP THAT.”

Not only that, but in both stories there is a distinct “The world is against us” vibe. I love stories like that that throw every single obstacle at the characters, so much so that it seems like they’re not going to make it (even though most stories I’ve read have a happy ending). George R. R. Martin is fabulous at this kind of writing, especially because you KNOW he isn’t afraid to kill off the character you’re routing for. (Here is a link to a spoiler that is only safe if you’ve read all his books that illustrates my point.)

So, here are some tips for making me need to read your story:

  • Make your character likable. If I don’t like them, I won’t care if they’re killed. (I don’t yet have a post about making a character likable, but Stephanie Meyer wrote a whole book about making a character unlikable.)
  • You don’t have to threaten to kill your character, but some kind of conflict has to happen. Not just any conflict. The more frustrating, the better. Right after A and B fall in love, A overhears B talking to C about how much he hates D and misunderstands him and thinks that he was talking about her then flies away to England and enrolls in University even though B just accepted a job in Pittsburgh and they’re perfect for each other. Just as X and Y were about to overthrow the oppressive government, Z swoops in and throws them in jail. J and H are about to pull off the big heist when they open the safe and find that it’s empty. You get the picture.
  • Be convincing when you write your conflict. As I said, most of us can tell if a story is going to have a happy ending. Romance novels, young adult novels, novels by specific authors—we can normally guess. However, you want to write well enough to make your reader forget that. You want them to be so caught up in the story that they think that X and Y are really going to be executed, or that A and B might never get back together again.

The meat of the story is the conflict, so you have to make sure you do it right. I’ve read books where I ended it with a “meh” and never picked it up again. Worse, the conflict happened too late in the story and I never got to it because I got bored in the first few pages. You want to make your readers NEED to finish the book, and if you’re really good, they’ll need to read your next book too!

What’s your favorite novel where it’s been the character versus the world?

How to Choose a Topic To Write About

I sat down and though, “Hmmm, I should write a blog post. But about what? Oh, I know! About picking topics to write about! Gosh I’m clever.”

I think that what I’m going to talk about will apply to all writing, whether it be your novel, poem, essay, or blog post. Writing is just tapping into your creativity and using words to express what you mean to say. Writers who have a firm grasp on the mechanics of writing might find this easier than others, but in the end anyone can write as long as they have creativity (they might need a really good editor, though).

What I feel helps me think of a topic is just blocking out everything else and letting something come to mind. For example, I was wondering what I’ll do when I’m done writing the Fairy Curse novels. That will be years from now, but I was still a little concerned. I tried to think of how I could stay in the same genre so that my readers would like the new content without having to repeat what I already had done. I thought, “Okay, what would exist in the context of magic, medieval world, and romance. Well… witches, of course!” Then you need to expand on that. “Well, what makes my witch special? Well, how about how she uses her magic. She likes using potions to help cure the villagers around her! And she’s very choosy about her friends, her only companion is a transsexual vampire who hates people.”

It can work for essays the same way. I have to do a research project later in the semester so I was brainstorming on what I want to do. I was thinking that I should have it connect to both my majors, psychology and criminal justice, and that it should be something I can potentially connect to my senior project. I want to possibly work with juveniles, so I was working within that context. Juveniles, criminal justice, psychology…. How do people perceive juvenile offenders verses adult offenders in minor crimes? As in, who deserves to be punished more for shoplifting, a 14-year-old or a 46-year-old?

Finding a topic is just about narrowing down your choices. Say you have to write a novel about something. Anything. You don’t have any ideas, but you need to write it (we’ll assume it’s getting close to November). Alright, you can do this. I believe in you. What genre do you want to write in? Romance? Fantasy? Both? Science Fiction? Historical Fiction? If you can’t decide, just pick the genre you like reading in most. From there, ask yourself a few more questions. Do you want the main character to be male or female? Why? Will their gender be an important part of the story (females being paid less, a man being forced to join the army)? What is this person going to do? Solve a mystery? Go on an adventure? Fall in love? Navigate intergalactic high school? Outrun death? Where does the story start in their life, and where does it end? What do you want to change by the end of the story?

It’s too overwhelming if you just ask, “What should I write?” The importance is in narrowing down the questions.

As you ask more questions, you’ll get more details. It doesn’t matter if they’re good ideas or not, write them down until you have something better. At some point you’ll say, “No, it’s stupid if my character goes to intergalactic high school and is still dating a human. She’s not going to date an alien, so I guess it’s just going to be a normal high school” until all the details are how you want them (though these changes might continue well into the final drafts of your novel).

If none of that works for you, just use a plot generator. You can write about the gnome who fell in love with the ballerina dancer on Mars. Best of luck to you.


Does anyone else have any specific techniques they use to find inspiration?