Thursday, October 21, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Feelings - The Right Intensity For Your Character's Emotions

I think there's one thing that all of us can agree on - feelings. All of us humans have them, unless you're a vegetable, statue, zombie, or . . . dead. Chances are, if you're reading this blog, you're none of those things. I think I'm at least 99.8 percent sure of that.

Now, what do I mean by "the right intensity for your character's emotions?" I've said this before, that my biggest problem in writing is using the wrong word sometimes. In an effort to spice up my voice, I may look up a different word in a big thesaurus, not realizing that I've picked something that's not pertinent to my setting or character. It's easy to imagine how your characters feel. You may even put their shoes on to get an idea, but how do you put that feeling down on paper?

It's the level of intensity - mild, medium, and high.

Example: there's a princess walking down a corridor. A guard notices her, looks up, and seems surprised. There's something falling toward her. He shouts, "Look out!" and, by natural instinct, she looks. A large droplet of water is about to hit her face. Is this life threatening? No. Bothersome? Sure. She may not even see it or move away. What would she feel at the moment? I'll go with "apprehensive." Now, let's replace that water droplet with a rugby ball. Would her feelings be any different? I bet it would, and I'd go with "shocked" for that scenario. How about a bolder? Yes. That's much more dire, so I think a falling bolder would qualify for "terrified."

Generally, it is the circumstance of the story (what happens to a character) that dictates how they feel. *Below is a page from my notes of commonly used emotion words, aligned by category and divided into mild, medium, and high intensities. It's not a complete range of emotion, but it's enough to give you an idea:

(*Given to me at a writer's meeting - complied from

Applying the right emotion word for your character's feelings is important to know, as not to undermine or over-dramatize the situation. I doubt anyone would be "enraged" by a paper cut or simply "glad" over a report card with straight A's. I know once I publish this post, I'll feel "satisfied" for having accomplished a new post and adding another thousand words to my MS.

What are some of your favorite emotion words?

I'm David, and I totally rewrote a short story!

BTW - I noticed on my notebook that the Laire looks fine, but on my home computer, the background is all blue and awful. Anybody else seeing this, or is it just Vista? This kinda makes me feel "irritated" :)


  1. background is all pretty and planety to me!

    Such a nice post. I love thinking of new words to describe emotion but it is a little tempting to use words that just sound nice but don't mean the right thing(too big/too small)

    Well said!

  2. Your background is wonderful!

    I like how you relate intensity and proper word choice, I think its easy for writers to forget sometimes. I try not to use a thesaurus because I want the language to be organic to my characters.

  3. Colene, Melissa - thank you for your feedback. I'm glad to know the Laire looks right to you. Now I need to figure out what's with my end.

    I never thought of it that way, Melissa - avoiding the thesaurus to maintain natural expression to your character. I like that.

  4. Great list :D And I agree, your background is fine as it is!

    Just wanted to say hi - saw your comment on Michelle's post about blogiquette and I thought I'd could help you towards your next round number of followers ^.^ Always good to meet fellow fantasy writers!