How to Show Character Emotions Like a Boss!

Updated: Jan 14

Many writers struggle like mad when it comes to showing instead of telling, especially their character's feelings and emotions. When writing your manuscript, it's important to grab your readers by the hand and drag them into your story, but doing so can be tricky when showing doesn't come naturally.


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For instance, the following examples may, or may not, be somewhat familiar to you: 

  • Arthur was fuming.

  • Arthur felt guilty. 

  • Arthur felt uncomfortable. 

  • Arthur was elated. 

The examples above tell the reader how the protagonist is feeling, but they are not powerful enough for readers to sympathise, empathise, or relate. To strengthen these examples, think about using a mixture of memory, imagination, and creativity.


Let's focus on the first example in the previous list: 


Arthur was fuming.


Do you remember the last time you were mad? How did you feel inside? How did you react? What did you do? Did you seethe in silence or explode on everything in your wake? Did you say anything? Did you rant and rave? Did you harm anything or anyone? 


These are just a few questions to ask yourself when copy-editing a sentence like the one above. However, if you cannot remember the last time you were angry, or cannot remember how you felt and reacted, try and think of someone you know, or look at how your favourite authors describe their characters' anger. 


With this in mind, here are a few examples of how you could show how your character feels: 

  • Arthur's blood boiled with rage as his heart pounded in his chest. 

  • Fire burned through his veins as his entire body trembled. 

  • Bitterness shot through Arthur's body like ice in the peak of winter. 

As before, these examples do not tell the reader that Arthur was fuming; they describe (show) how his body physically reacted to the stimulus that angered him. 


Let's have a look at the second example in the list: 


Arthur felt guilty. 


If this sentence were written in your manuscript, your readers might have a hard time sympathising or relating to Arthur's guilt; therefore, it is important to show your audience what is going on inside your character's mind. For example, has their stomach twisted into a tight knot? Do they feel sick with regret? Is there a weight on their shoulders that they cannot shift? Does their heart plummet every time they think about whatever is causing them guilt? 


Like before, here are a few examples of how you could show a character's guilt without literally telling the reader he felt guilty: 

  • Arthur's stomach pretzeled as he dwelled on past events. 

  • A weight heavier than his sword crushed his shoulders. 

  • Every time Arthur mulled over the past, he gagged and retched. 

For more amazing tips to help you show like a pro, jump on over to the affordable course that is guaranteed to teach you EVERYTHING you need to know about show vs tell!


By the end, you will have mastered the invaluable skill of writing dazzling descriptions that will leave your readers wanting more!


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ABOUT THE EDITOR


Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm the book editor and proofreader at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent literary consultancy in the UK. I help passionate writers and authors to get their novels ready for literary agents or self-publishing.


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