Adding emotion to your book

Hi Ya Bookcasers!!

Let’s be frank here, this is something a lot of writers struggle with, so don’t feel like you’re the only one. Most of us, at some time or another, have that statement of “I didn’t connect to the story in the way I wanted to,” or “your character felt too remote,” or “the voice didn’t quite grab me.” Or any variation thereof. And while there are many reasons for these responses, I believe that one of the most important reasons why your readers aren’t falling in love with your book is: lack of good emotional display. So, how do you fix this?


I think there are two traps a writer falls into, and both are polar opposites. Yes, you guessed it: show vs tell. I’m going to cover these quickly, but then I’m going to get down to what I think the reason is why you’re still not getting the response you want.

Showing: This is something that is definitely necessary in your novel, but (believe it or not!), it can also be overdone. If you show every single heartbeat, breath catching, hands quivering, etc. then it’s going to become melodramatic. In fact, this is demonstrated by writers who are commonly making each emotion more intense than the last in terms of how they show it. A “catch in breath” becomes a “strangled throat” in the next description, then up to a “unable to breathe anymore.” I’m not saying this is a bad thing. In fact, these types of descriptions can add tons to your novel, and they should be there. All I’m saying is don’t over do it. Otherwise, they’ll lose their meaning and the reader will disconnect.

Telling: This has a different result. When you tell the reader that someone is feeling scared, the reader doesn’t feel it. If it’s stated that someone is happy, we don’t feel it. Sure, we might think “oh,. that’s not good” or “that’s nice.” But are we really immersed in the scene and feeling those feelings ourselves, or at least on the character’s shoulder and empathizing with them greatly as the story plays out? Not really. However, like showing, there are places in the novel where you should use telling. If you show every single emotion in every single scene, you’re going to get a melodramatic, bogged down story. Telling in places is a good way to jump your story forward when it demands quick pacing.

So, what do I think makes strong emotion come through? Well, there are three things (one of which I’m pretty positive you’ve heard before, the others, maybe some of you have heard, maybe not). But here they are for what they’re worth:

1) Mix showing and telling. As I stated above, use them to your advantage. Show when it’s a slower moment, tell when you need to get moving. Or at least vary how and when you use them.

2) Internal thought. This is one that’s so important. We want to see how the character thinks about being scared. What is their unique take on the situation? What does being scared mean to them? For example:

The door clanged shut and my chest clenched (showing). Okay, scared shitless now (telling). There’s something about a door slamming that sounds like a gun shot. Like the bullet that slammed through David’s neck, and he never stood up ever again. The one that should have hit me (internal thought).

Okay, so that’s just a very rough example, but what it does is show you that the character’s take on being scared is very specific. We know how it affects her and why. Also, I used all three methods to indicate how each could be used in a sentence.

3) Pin point moments. This is something I believe every novel should have. There can be a lot of big dramatic scenes (and there should be), and these will fill huge emotional spaces in your book. But I also believe there should be emotional pin points. Little moments in the book that are focused through the eye of a needle. Let me explain: say you have a girl who loved her father so much and you showed this through the entire novel. Then say said father betrayed her in the most terrible way. Yes, you could have a big dramatic emotional scene. But you could also have a small, eye of the needle scene. Perhaps the young girl has a pendant her father gave her and she cherished. Perhaps after finding out about the betrayal, the girl walks through and just quietly leaves it on the table and walks out. No big emotional hoo-hah. But a single action that speaks volumes.

Of course, there are a million and one other ways of showing emotion; ones that I’ve still to learn. But these are the ones that are working for me (when I get them right), and that have guided me a little closer to more emotional resonance.

Remember, though, take the advice you find useful and that’s all. Experiment and see if it works for you. And never stop learning, pushing your boundaries, and believing that what you have emotionally in your head will get onto the page if you keep trying.

Happy writing and reading!

Fiona xox

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