Emotions Bring Depth to Your Character's and Hook Your Reader's Heart

by Kathy Stemke

One way to make your story have universal appeal is to add the tension of opposing emotions inside your character. We all feel mixed emotions every day. When a character has two or three choices and none of them seem very good, it adds tension. It makes the reader want to turn the page.

Emotions in your characters will help your story reach out and hook more readers. You want your readers emotionally involved with the characters in the story. If they are emotionally involved, they’ll want to find out what happens to them.

Characters need strengths and weaknesses. For example, righteous anger can be a strength, while contempt could be a weakness. Whether characters are likable or unlikable, they need good traits or strengths and bad traits or weaknesses. No living person is one dimensional, so neither should fictitious ones be.

Flaws and passions should be revealed in layers. Show, don’t tell.  A writer can write a paragraph or more explaining the personality traits, feelings, strengths, and/or weaknesses of a character, boring a reader to tears; or the author can reveal layer by layer of the character through the plot, dialogue and storyline - showing the reader the character and his or her emotions rather than telling about the character.

These are the main emotions: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness and Surprise. Add action, setting, and description of your character’s face and body to make these emotions real.

Here is an example of sad emotion that works is Jo Kittinger’s picture book, “Dirty-Third Street.”

“You might be right,” said Mom. She sank to the floor in the corner. “What was I thinking?”

I slumped down beside her and leaned my head against her shoulder.

Here’s an excerpt from my WIP, “Winnie’s War” which shows anger.

“I loathe this war! It’s destroyin’ our family.” Winnie flung her arms up and marched toward the door. “If me Dad were alive, he’d never send them away.”

Here’s an example of sad emotion from “Winnie’s War.”

“Let us know where you end up, Davy.” Winnie waved and sobbed through her fake smile as the train sped around the corner and out of sight. Please bring them back safely.

There are many other emotions that your characters can show like amusement, contempt, contentment, embarrassment, excitement, guilt, pride in achievement, relief, satisfaction, sensory pleasure, and shame.  The more emotions you can add to your character’s story the stronger the hook you will have in your reader’s heart.

As a freelance writer and ghostwriter, Kathy Stemke has published over one hundred of articles in directories, magazines and on websites. She is a reviewer for Sylvan Dell Publishing and a former editor for The National Writing for Children Center. As a retired teacher, Kathy has several activities published with Gryphon House Publishing.
Award winning author, Kathy Stemke’s first children’s picture book, Moving Through All Seven Days, was published on Lulu. Her next two picture books were, Sh, Sh, Sh Let the Baby Sleep, and Trouble on Earth Day. Both of these books have been awarded the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.  Visit her book blog at http://shshshletthebabysleep.blogspot.com.


Martha said...

Love the picture! What great examples you gave. Thanks

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

It's a great reminder that even your hero needs flaws.

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks for this, Kathy. The book I'm reading at the moment has a heroine who has so many emotions tied up inside her that I can't put the book down! I just love her to bits. Such a gift to be able to create that sort of character.

Fani Nicheva said...

Good point, great examples. thank you!

Magdalena Ball said...

I agree wholeheartedly Kathy and those were very good examples. One way I find to develop my characters is to observe the people around me - no one is one thing or another - we're all a complex range of emotions and showing those conflicts makes for realistic and appealing characters as you show us.

NancyCL said...

As usual, a wonderful article, Kathy. And, I know "Winnie's War" is going to be a blockbuster!

D. Jean Quarles said...

What a great reminder. Nice post. Thanks.

21 Wits said...

So true! As your photo clearly shows....a lot of emotion going on there!

Unknown said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting everyone. Let's keep writing!

Mayra Calvani said...

Thanks for the tips, Kathy!

Debbie A Byrne said...

Good tips. Thanks!

Karen Cioffi said...

Kathy, Great post. Building your characters through dialogue, action, and sensory details is how the reader will connect with him. And, as you say, it should be layer-by-layer!

I'll be linking to this.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

How to Sell Your Book in Bulk

  by Suzanne Lieurance Did you know that studies have shown that most self-published authors sell fewer than 200 copies of their book?   Tha...