Character Emotion: Emotion Ranges from a Little to a Lot

Character emotion is one of the first things that writers learn to show vs tell.  An angry character yells and stomps.  A sad character cries.  A happy character dances for joy.

But emotions aren’t binary, either on or off.  Sometimes emotions are strongly felt.  Other times they are more subtle.  Part of showing character emotions is learning to express where on a scale of one to ten your character is experiencing this particular emotion. Let’s take satisfaction as an example.  Your character needs to drop something into the mail.  Sealed letter in hand, she hurries to the front door to see the mail carrier stepping up on the porch.  She’s made it.  It’s a small victory so she simply nods her head to herself.  Job well done.

At lunch, she is discussing getting her scholarship application sent out with a friend.  This friend is certain she did it wrong.  “You should have e-mailed it.”  Your character is sure she is right and she’s more than a little tired of this particular friend second guessing everything she does.  While her friend is texting with her latest boyfriend, your character quickly pulls up the information about the scholarship on her phone.  Questions may be e-mailed in but all applications must arrive via snail mail.  She slides her phone across the table and gives a jazz hand salute.  “Ta da! I told you it had to be mailed in.”

Stronger emotion, stronger reaction.

A month later, she’s listening to messages on her phone before she walks to class.  “We’re pleased to inform you that you’ve been selected to receive a full scholarship to state university.”  A full scholarship!  She shrieks, jumps up and down and throws her arms around a passing student – a victory of this magnitude will play out bigger than getting to the mail box before the mailman.

When you are thinking about how to share your character’s emotion, consider not only the emotion but how strongly it is felt.  Will this call for a small, medium or large reaction?


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