J.A. Stinger

Words Can Inspire The World

5 Ways to Write Terror, Love, or Hatred

Welcome to the blog! Please sit down and have a nice cup of coffee. I was going to get some doughnuts (hides box behind back) but they didn’t have any jelly filled. So, uh, yeah… Anyways, this week we’re going to talk about emotions. Don’t worry I’m not going to ask you to open up, (except your inbox, I’d love to be able to relentlessly hound you with e-mails every time I update, so you should definitely hit the follow button to make that happen) so let’s get started.

Telling- This is the simplest, easiest, but also weakest way to convey an emotion to a reader. If you ever write the actual name of an emotion (i.e. happy, sad, angry, etc.) then you are telling the reader the emotion. I suggest to avoid telling most of the time, though it can be useful if the important focus of the scene is something other than that particular emotion, you want to create conflict between the character’s body language and what they say they are feeling, or if you want to convey a rapidly changing emotional state. No matter what, use telling with caution Overuse of this concept is a sure sign of weak writing. Even though we don’t really need an example, here is one for the sake of being thorough:

The basement terrified Jennifer.

Dialogue- A character’s speech is a great way to provide insight into their emotional state.   The best way to achieve success with expressing emotion through dialogue is to consider how emotions change your own speech patterns. Excitement will increase the speed in which most people talk, but sadness will do the exact opposite. Word choice also differs based on emotion. A character who is already angry, will be more likely to curse at a minor inconvenience than someone who was happy. If you overuse dialogue it can create a “white-room” scenario where the reader can imagine the people talking, but that’s it.

“Why can’t you go get it?” Jennifer asked. “Its your stuff, and it’s so freaking creepy down there.” 

“I have to go to work,” said Matt.

Thoughts/Observations- This is my favorite way to convey emotion. It is one part dialogue and one part description. The concept is that different emotional states make people notice different things, as well as think differently about those observations. An example of this is the following passage.

Her eyes darted back to the door at the top of the stairs. ‘This is so not worth Chinese ‘ Jennifer thought as the final wooden step creaked. ‘Where the fuck is the stupid—’

Body Language- Most communication actually occurs through nonverbal cues. Body language is one of the strongest ways to describe an emotion. It provides a clear image of the character and conveys emotion almost as easily as telling. Overuse of the same body language tends to get stale, and cliches are everywhere when it comes to describe body language. Try to be original, but if you find that a cliche like, “shivers ran up my spine,” works best, try to alter so it is a little more original. “Tremors coursed along the back of my thighs,” is pretty much the same thing, but a bit more creative.

The cool basement floor bit into the bottoms of Jennifer’s bare feet, as she dashed across the grime covered concrete. Hands shaking, she opened a box only to close it a second later.

Physical Response- The strongest emotions elicit an involuntarily physical response. This is different from body language, because we cannot stop even if we tried. Sweaty palms, a pounding heart, and dilated pupils are physical responses of strong emotions. Not all emotions warrant a physical response. Emotions have differing intensities, and if you describe every emotion with physical responses you run the risk of creating a melodrama.

 Something—a demon, a specter— brushed Jennifer’s face as she stepped around the wooden pillar that jutted from the basement floor. Arms flailing, she stumbled from her attacker only to find strings of cobwebs dangling from her fingertips. Her heart threatened to explode, but at least it was only a spider. 

The best writers know when to use each of the above concepts, how to combine them, and when less is more. I hope that everyone is having a wonderful day, and I am looking forward to talking to you next week. If you want me to shut up and stop spewing nonsense, just share this page, and tell everyone how terrible I am. If you kinda liked it, the follow button is a great way to show me your support. Here is a short paragraph with all of the techniques to finish off Jenifer’s trek into the basement.

“I’m so fucking done,” Jennifer whispered. She snapped around, but shrieked at the sight of the—monster? She didn’t wait to find out. Feet pounding against the stone, she yanked a club from Matt’s old golf bag. Pulse racing, she crept toward the stairs. Her eyes darted to a shadow, and just stopped from destroying one of her mother’s old dolls. Glancing over her shoulder, she sprinted up the stairs and into the safety of the kitchen. Fear did not begin to describe the basement.