6 Tips to Write Deeply Emotional Fiction

In the tumultuous sea of storytelling, where the tides of emotion ebb and flow, writers get to discover the profound art of learning how to write deeply emotional fiction. Emotions are the vibrant threads that weave a connection between characters’ souls and readers’ hearts. To navigate this intricate terrain, let us uncover six tools to infuse your fiction with an emotional resonance that lingers.

Every once in a while I share a post that elicits an unusual number of heartfelt personal emails from readers. A post from last October—“‘There and Back Again’: The Lord of the Rings and the Power of Despair in Fiction“—was one of those posts. In it, I shared my own powerful and deeply personal connection with this beloved classic and was honored to hear from so many of you who had experienced something similar either with Lord of the Rings or with another equally important story. Amongst those emails was the common query, “How do I write those deep emotions in my own fiction?”

Lev Vellene wrote:

I would like to ask you this one thing about your recent blog-post about despair vs hope, (and you already pointed to some ways of not doing it the wrong way, anyway!): How can any of us who never really experienced personal despair describe, or transcribe, that to others? I went there in my own way long ago, and being male, I never (of course!) talked about it (naturally… 😉). But that was my subjective experience, after all. Do you feel there is a common feeling of human decency that we will all tap into, when we read moving novels/stories?

In response to this question, I initially posted a short video on YouTube, talking about the subjectivity of writing with emotion:

However, I received the question from so many of you that I decided I would offer a full post, digging into some tools and methodologies that can help writers tap a deeper emotional level in their stories.

The Challenge of Learning How to Write Emotional Fiction

But first, why write emotional fiction?

The short answer is simply that fiction is inherently emotional. Even when that emotion is just a feeling of baseline satisfaction, audiences want to feel something. Indeed, back in the olden days, plays originated specifically as a way to create a remedial experience of catharsis in viewers. This means stories are designed to help us feel our feelings. For most of us, when we think of the stories that have most powerfully impacted our lives, it is the emotional experiences they gave us that make them so memorable and meaningful.

As writers, it behooves us to ask these questions about how we can create stories with the potential to emotionally impact our audiences. But, as the questions themselves indicate, this isn’t always an easy proposition.

The kernel of truth at the heart of the common bit of writing advice to “only write what you know” really comes down to “only write your emotional truth.” But the very power of emotions means they are not always easy to write about, much less access. Only recently has modern recognition of the dangers of repressing emotions become prevalent, which means many of us have had to do a little work in order to write authentically even about our own experiences. Even amongst those writers who are emotionally savvy, learning to translate those feelings into drama requires technical mastery.

The good news is that because fiction is an inherently emotional experience, it is well-suited to helping us access and process the very emotions we’re seeking to convey in our stories. As someone who has had to do her own share of emotional un-repressing, I recognize that my lifelong love of stories has certainly been influenced by their cathartic power to help me feel things in a safe container. For both readers and writers, stories offer the scientifically proven opportunity to expand the nervous system’s capacity to feel and process emotion—and, by extension, to experience life more expansively.

6 Tips, Tools, and Methodologies to Help You Write Deeply Emotional Fiction

Writing emotional fiction is both an art and a science, requiring a delicate balance of authenticity and technique. In the following exploration, we will uncover six tips, tools, and methodologies to guide you in crafting fiction that transcends mere words to touch the very soul of your audience.

1. Cultivate Your Own Emotional Intelligence

It all starts here. You can’t write what you can’t feel. I titled my LOTR post “There and Back Again” for a reason. This first tip is the “going there” part. For starters, we can, of course, use the act of writing our fiction to discover our feelings. But we can also go much deeper, and the deeper we go, the better our fiction has the opportunity to become.

I did not start out as an emotionally intelligent person. Just the opposite. It was a point of pride up through my 20s that I never cried. Then life happened, thirty years of repressed emotions exploded out of my shadow, and I turned into Aunt Bea crying at the drop of a hat (Opie: “It’s the roast. She looked right at it and cried.”). I had to take a crash course in emotional intelligence—one I highly recommend to anyone creating art.

For me, one of the biggest revelations was that emotions are something that happen in the body. I’d always sort of imagined them as ephemerae floating around my head somewhere, rather than as physical sensations (which shows you how disconnected I was). Indeed, one of the reasons we often don’t want to feel our feelings is because they literally hurt in the body. When we talk about being willing to feel our feelings, we’re talking about feeling tension trapped in the body which can only be released when we are willing to feel it.

One of the easiest ways to do this is “body scanning.” When you sit down to write an emotional scene, take a moment to close your eyes and scan your body from head to toe, noticing and naming any sensations you feel. You aren’t necessarily looking for emotions; rather, you’re trying to raise consciousness around physical sensations. If you’re cut off from emotions, it’s because you’re cut off from your body. The act of vocally naming sensations helps promote a mind-body neural connection that makes it easier and easier to raise real-time emotional awareness. This process might sound something like this, “I feel cold in my toes, tingling in my knees, lots of energy in my belly, tension in my spine, lightness in my chest, pressure in the crown of my head.” Don’t worry if you don’t have exactly the right words, since the whole point of the process is to familiarize yourself with sensations that may feel very unfamiliar.

From there, you can move on to other exercises, such as the one I often talk about as embodying emotions. Imagine yourself feeling a certain emotion. Or imagine the emotion you know your character needs to feel in today’s scene. How and where in your body does this show up for you? Think of it as research. When you “tell” readers your character is angry, how might you “show” them instead by describing how this emotion shows up for you as physical sensations?

Another useful exercise is that of emotional pendulating. This is particularly useful when you encounter a difficult or traumatic emotion that is too painful to stay with for very long. You can grow your capacity to handle the difficult emotion in a safe way by feeling into it as deeply as is comfortable, then pendulating out of that state into one that feels pleasurable or safe. For example, if you need to tap your character’s grief but it feels too overwhelming, stay in it for as long as you can, then pendulate into joy or gratitude or excitement. If you’re working through your own difficult emotions, this should be done with care and, if necessary, in the presence of people who can support you. As you get comfortable with the practice, it becomes an incredible tool for accessing your characters’ emotions whenever you need to.

2. Move Beyond a Mental Approach to Writing Emotions

Some people’s challenge with emotions is that they’ve habituated themselves into stuffing them away, so they feel nothing—in which case it can be difficult to tap those emotions on command when you need to write about them. Other people’s challenge may be that they can’t shut the emotions off—they feel everything and feel it too strongly to bear—in which case it can be difficult to control how those emotions show up in their writing.

The key is to make sure that, as a creative, your approach to emotions accesses the full trifecta of your intelligence centers: mind, heart, and body.

For those of us who are heavily mind-identified, the challenge can be that we tend to write mechanically about emotions. We mentally understand what it is to feel love or grief or joy or anger, but we aren’t actually feeling. We’re just thinking about what it feels like. There is a visceral difference, and readers will notice.

Equally, however, those who are comfortable with feeling all the feels in their heart centers may find it difficult to shift out of the drama of all that emotion into a rational space that allows them to carefully craft the emotional experience that should be showing up on the page.

To write deeply emotional fiction, we have to be able to access the wisdom of both mind and heart—and the best medium between the two is the body. Even back at my most emotionally unintelligent, I always knew I could identify my best story ideas by how viscerally my body responded to them. In Write Away, mystery author Elizabeth George speaks to her own experience with this:

Writing is not only an intellectual endeavor for me, it’s also very much a physical one. When I’m onto the right story, the right location, the right situation, the right theme, my body tells me. I feel a surge of excitement in my solar plexus that literally sends the message Yes yes yes! to my brain.

3. Examine Your Story Idea for Pertinent Emotions

Emotions should never be copy/pasted into a story. The most resonant stories are those that create their own emotions. Most of the time, we will begin a story with an idea about character or plot or theme, and pertinent emotions can arise from there. Occasionally, we may start with an emotion (e.g., “I want to write a story about grief” or “I want to write a story about falling in love”). In those cases, it is imperative we shift into the mental space long enough to carefully choose and craft plots and characters who would naturally generate these emotions.

In order for readers to feel what your characters are feeling, the emotions must arise naturally. Simply telling readers that a character is “sad” or “madly in love” will never achieve the desired effect. For emotions to be powerful, they can never be on the nose. This is why I have often used the personal mantra “never name an emotion.” This isn’t meant to be taken literally; sometimes you have to call out what a character is feeling. But naming an emotion should be a last resort. Instead, your character’s emotions should be deeply and achingly obvious from the context of their actions and the subtext of their reactions.

More than that, it is important to remember that, in real life, emotions are almost inevitably quite complicated. The more (realistically) complex a character’s emotions, the more layers are available for readers to work through. Some of the most complex emotional opportunities in fiction arise from complicated consequences generated by the characters’ own choices.

4. Mine Your Own Subjective Emotional Experiences

At the top of the post, I quoted a question about whether or not a writer’s subjective emotional experiences can translate into a shared universal experience with readers. The answer, simply, is yes. This is because emotions are not subjective. They are objective in their universal applicability to everyone. We all have the capacity to experience the full range of human emotions—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Subjectivity only emerges in the story’s specifics of what prompts these emotions for the characters.

In my post about Lord of the Rings, I spoke about how deeply it touched me and helped me work through feelings of despair. Despair (like hope) is an objective, universal emotion. You and I can feel it just as much as Frodo and Sam. The subjectivity of Tolkien’s story—in which despair is evoked by the Ring’s apocalyptic powers and the characters’ struggles against orcs, trolls, and sorcerers—isn’t something I experience in my life or can relate to. But that doesn’t stop me, and millions of others, from being able to apply the underlying emotion to events that are specific to us.

This is the magic of fiction. We are transported into worlds that look nothing like ours and entertained by characters who do things we would never do, and yet we are still able to feel everything they are feeling. That is catharsis.

As you seek how you may evoke universal emotions in your readers, ruthlessly mine your own subjective experiences. For instance, perhaps you have lost a parent, and you can evoke that same grief in writing about a character losing a comrade in battle. Not everyone reading your story will have gone through these same personal losses, but that doesn’t mean your experiences as translated through your characters can’t help readers tap their own truth.

5. Imagine Your Physical Reactions in Your Character’s Shoes

When you’re ready to evoke your characters’ emotions on the page, start by imagining what physical reactions you would experience were you in your character’s shoes. Perhaps your character is going into battle for the first time or about to get engaged or attending the funeral of someone they didn’t like. Whatever the case, and no matter how different it is from your own lived experiences, use that writer’s imagination of yours to put yourself in this situation.

For just this moment, you’re not asking how your character would feel or what your character would do. You’re asking yourself what you would feel in this situation. What physical sensations arise for you? Emotions in you inspire emotions in your characters inspire emotions in your readers.

Dreamlander (Amazon affiliate link)

I have a visceral memory of the first time I consciously did this when writing my protagonist’s first battle scene in my portal fantasy Dreamlander. I had written a first draft of the scene that had fallen flat. In trying to write a more authentic scene the second time around, I asked myself what would feel in his shoes and came up with what is still one of my favorite and most-commented-upon scenes in all my books. Try it!

6. Plan Plot and Characters to Create Deep Emotions

Now that you have some ideas for how to access the emotions you want to portray in your fiction, you have to bring those emotions to life on the page with well-executed techniques.

Creating Character Arcs (Amazon affiliate link)

The most important technique is simply this: sync the plot to the character arc.

At the core of your character’s arc are all the emotions you could possibly need for your story. But the only way to tap the richness of your character’s inner conflict is to craft an external plot that harmonizes with that inner arc. I’ve talked about this elsewhere (in all my books and specifically in Writing Your Story’s Theme), but the nutshell is that plot, theme, and character are not separate pieces. In a cohesive and resonant story, one naturally generates the other.

Writing Your Story’s Theme (Amazon affiliate link)

They also generate authentic emotion. When the events in the plot prompt the character’s arc, and the character’s inner struggles then influence decisions in the plot, the only emotions that will show up on your page are those that are inherent to the story and just begging to be dramatized through the plot’s actions.

As you dig deeper into the interpersonal emotion that shows up between your protagonist and the supporting characters, look for ways you can raise the emotional stakes. Don’t allow characters to feel just one emotion for each other. Make things complicated and messy, just like they are in life. Love and hate, joy and disappointment, excitement and fear—all of these emotions exist together. As you craft your characters’ relationships, look for ways to create tension between their need for connection and the resulting conflict. As your characters pendulate between the two, your opportunities to write deeply emotional fiction will grow with every page.

***

Learning how to write emotional fiction is, at its core, a journey into the heart of our shared humanity. It is not just an artistic endeavor; it’s an exploration of the human experience. The power to move readers lies not just in the narrative but in the authenticity of its emotion. This foray into the tools of cultivating and sharing emotional intelligence on the page is an invitation to delve into all the richness that is available in the human psyche. As writers, we navigate the sea of emotions, charting a course that offers the potential to leave a lasting emotional imprint on readers’ hearts—a legacy of words that linger, evoke, and, above all, make us feel more profoundly. May your narratives become beacons, guiding readers through the storms of their emotions and leaving them changed by the transformative power of deeply emotional fiction.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What has been your most powerful experience in learning how to write deeply emotional fiction? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. What perfect timing! My protagonist in my story is about to go on his first date and now you’ve given me some ideas has to how to create some emotion there for both the protagonist and the date.

  2. Thank you for this post. I really need it to help with the reaction of my character to a life-changing injury.

  3. So much to consider here, thank you.

    It’s so true, if you’re going to write about an emotion, most of what there is to describe is the physical “feeling” of that feeling. There’s also what it does to the character’s flow of thoughts — someone scared is going to be less convincing every time they pull their attention away from what’s chasing them, and someone in love should have their fascination slipping back into their thoughts again and again. And of course, being sure what they actually do is honest for someone in that emotion. Simply giving the emotion’s name really is the least of it.

    And of course, keep *The Emotion Thesaurus* handy. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s manual really does have a huge list of ways to bring emotions to life, including their internal feelings. But all of that is just a tool as we choose how to show each one each time.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Absolutely! Thanks for mentioning Emotion Thesaurus. I should have included it in the post.

  4. Sionnach says

    Thank you for the idea of pendulating. I’ll try that. I often get depressed or triggered over sad or frightening scenes and get stuck in the character’s emotions. Sometimes I can’t write for days or even weeks. I go back to it, but the time feels lost and sometimes the emotions make me physically ill.

    Do you have any advice on how to pendulate? I understand the concept, but I’m not sure how you swing yourself into a contrasting emotion.

  5. Cheryl Potts says

    Role playing. Become the character..

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Definitely. Writers are really actors in many ways.

    • I co-sign! The late sci-fi / fantasy author Phyllis Eisenstein had our class role-play a scenario. I played a space ship captain whose ship was under attack. After, she told me she wanted me to think about the captain’s motivations, and her reactions to the situation. This “unlocked” writing emotions and writing from a deeper POV for me.

      And for situations I’ve never been in, I read history and biographies and the news. I was once a reporter, so I’m used to asking probing questions in-person. If your dystopian sci-fi has characters living in a totalitarian system, then read the biographies of people who lived under the Iron Curtain. See what they said they felt, how they acted and reacted to certain situations. If you’ve never fought in a battle, ask a veteran what it’s like to be in a firefight. Then you can put yourself in their shoes.

      It’s not only writing what you know, it’s writing what you can find out 🙂

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Great advice. Research is just as important for speculative genres as it is for realistic ones.

  6. Earl Cater says

    This is a curious adventure in writing. When teaching online English classes, I am focused on the academic side of correct grammar and academic English. Yet, I tell the students the way they write is the way they talk, and the person who taught them to talk is creeping out in their work. They need to learn to add and apply a new language to their skill set. We cannot separate the active voice deeply implanted in our minds from speech development, so we train ourselves to write in a new, unfeeling, form of English. Our speech development messes with things like word order and grammar. As a young adult, I had to learn, and in part, teach myself to not use my parents Appalachian speech tendencies. I began to overwrite how I heard things with how things out to be. In simple terms, I learned a new language. But in creative writing, the voice of emotions, feelings, and thoughts needs to creep back in. Seeing this dynamic more clearly brings me full circle on the things I unlearned in writing emotionless academic English! As a caveat: this does not mean I am returning to the phrase, ‘you ort do dat.’

    • Thank you for sharing what you had to learn and then unlearn. I can so identify with your experience having been a speaker of broad Northern dialect which had to be curbed to ‘fit in’ with proper English speaker i.e. the plummy Southern accent. Then years of writing court reports as a Social Worker meant I lost touch with my roots.
      I have just finished a book about the area in which I grew up and have, I think found my voice again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Kinda like how I have to consciously make myself not say I’m going to go “warsh” my hands. 😉 It still slips out sometimes.

  7. I had quite a challenge to depict deep emotions well in my second novel. One of my characters was a 12-year-old boy whose father had been killed in an industrial accident. The boy and his mother go through a lot of issues over the following year. When the mother wants to remarry, the boy struggles mightily with the idea.

    After a long percolation, I realized I needed to consult with someone who had been through something similar. I thought of one of my nephews, who had lost his mother to cancer when he was nine – not exactly the same situation, but I wondered if it might generate similar emotions and struggles. I asked my nephew (then in his late twenties) if he’d share with me what he remembered of that time. He sent me a four-page email full of strong remembrance and impressions. I read that over and over again, over the next month or so, and eventually the rawness of my nephew’s experience seeped into my soul. Then I could proceed with my fictional character. My nephew reviewed the results and thought they evoked the emotional depth required.

    If it can be called advice, I recommend looking to others with those emotional experiences if you don’t have them yourself.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I would imagine your giving him the space to share was meaningful for him as well.

  8. I thought I was ready for publishing and I am really. I have sent off the first 5,000 words to an agent and am actively searching for others. But reading this made me think about a particular scene that is necessary, but that I was unhappy about and couldn’t figure out why. It is not in the sample I sent to the Agent so I was able to go back and change it by adding some physical action (she vigorously pokes the fire with the poker) showing her physical display of anger at her situation, this I placed in the middle of her contemplative thoughts on her own poverty and that all around her.
    So thank you very much for this latest (and all your great) posts. To be honest without your helpful guidance I wouldn’t be where I am now with my writing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s great! I’m so glad the timing worked out well for you. All the best with the agent!

  9. John Atherton says

    Once again, very valuable insight! You’re a beautiful lady, too!

  10. “… your approach to emotions accesses the full trifecta of your intelligence centers: mind, heart, and body.”

    It’s interesting that you consider heart separate from mind and body.

    One of the most profound experiences I’ve had that changes how I experience emotion (or more accurately, how I observe myself experiencing emotion) had been heart disease. The anatomical heart, the one which pumps blood, is so very much tied up into emotion, confirmed by plenty of scientific research, which means anything that throws off heart function can very well also mess with emotion. A lot of people with heart disease experience a flattening of emotions, to some extent because of medication, but also, when experiencing strong emotions makes you feel physically worse (including ways which can be objectively measured, such as heart rate), you train yourself to just feel less emotion. It’s difficult to accept a life with less feeling in it, but if the alternative is dying sooner? Sacrificing emotions is worth it. It’s like choosing to only eat bland food because the alternative is not eating food at all.

    I also now know about many different physical sensations of the left chest, such as that feeling when there is a hole in the chest and a gentle breeze passes through it, lightly tugging at the edges of the flesh (thing I have felt, though I didn’t have a literal hole in my chest), which increases the variety of descriptions I can use.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Very sorry to hear you’ve had to struggle with that. I should start by saying that, of course, the heart is part of the body. What I’m distinguishing here as the body is more to do with the gut and probably would have been better phrased that way. I tend to think of heart/mind/body as the three centers due to my familiarity with Enneagram models.

      I am fascinated by correlations between emotional/energetic manifestations and physical manifestations. Caroline Myss won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found the book she co-authored with Norman Shealy, M.D., to be insightful in some of my own healing journeys: The Creation of Health.

      • Based on my own experiences and some of the science I’ve read about, I think there’s an argument to be made that the heart is also part of the mind. Some evidence suggests that thoughts/cognition don’t just come from the brain, and that the heart might be one of the top origins of thought aside from the brain.

        There is plenty of research into the heart which would interest someone fascinated by correlations of emotional/energetic manifestations and physical manifestations. In particular, takotsubo cardiomyopathy (a.k.a. “broken heart syndrome”), which was first named/identified after the Kobe earthquake (an intense emotional experience for many people present) may be of interest. It’s a way that an intense emotional experience can mechanical failure in the heart, and it’s far more common in women than in men. There’s still much scientists don’t understand about it, but one theory I’ve seen is that it’s a mechanism to protect the mother’s heart during childbirth which can, under some circumstances, malfunction.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          There’s research that shows brain cells showing up in many different places of the body. And then, of course, there’s the concept of the gut as our second brain. It’s all connected! Which is fascinating to me.

  11. Whenever I have an emotional experience or epiphany, or a metaphor that inspires me, I’ll sit and write it down. I feel like this way I’m creating my own library of ’emotional and meaningful descriptions, moments and metaphors’ that I can choose from when writing. Usually, it helps to inspire the theme which then inspires the story

  12. I co-sign paying attention to what happens at a physiological level. Fight, flight, or freeze. What is happening at the bodily level for each one of those? Online psychology articles help with that. How a person reacts when adrenaline is coursing through their system, e.g., becoming “detached” or maybe getting tunnel vision, or unusually strong. Maybe their hands shake. Some people get coldblooded when angry, instead of volcanic and explosive.

    My characters tend to have icewater in their bellies when they’re nervous, because that’s what happens to me. I don’t relate to hands getting clammy, or sweat breaking out on one’s forehead, so I have to remember to vary the options for my characters.

    Also, sometimes I map my own reactions to different situations. That is, I avoid crying because it can literally give me a headache, so I might clench my jaw in an attempt to keep the tears in check. But one character clenches her jaw to keep from crying because she mistakenly believes that showing such emotion is a weakness. Part of her arc is to realize the difference between being stoic and being, well, emotionally stunted.

    By the way, a book you recommended also helped me nail the emotions in a scene. It’s called “The Emotional Craft of Fiction” by Donald Maass, and it offers great techniques to put into action the advice in today’s post.

  13. This is a fantastic post! Thank you for posting and going into detail. It’s something I noticed in my first book. Some of my emotions were just off, so I’m planning on releasing a second edition.

  14. Thank you for sharing your personal and authorial journey with us!

  15. katie hay-molopo says

    “May your narratives become beacons, guiding readers through the storms of their emotions and leaving them changed by the transformative power of deeply emotional fiction.”
    YES! This is my goal and vision for the stories I write. Thank you for this thoughtful post, insightful tips, and encouraging words. Always appreciate your work!

  16. Excellent post. As you say, writing is much more than a craft. I agree that it deepens our experience and our ability to connect with others.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Story is life. Life is story. 🙂

      • So true. I believe we’re cut off from our emotions and our bodies because of the philosophical dualism that permeates modern culture. My favorite eco-writer, Charlene Spretnak, argues that dualism leads to alienation from oneself and from nature.

  17. A Small Mystery Solved

    My latest book, The Jackson River Bridge, is characterized as a fictional memoir. The book chronicles the life of a person on the autism spectrum. The book is fiction and I’ve denied that it’s in anyway autobiographical. That said, when I discuss the book with others or have occasion to reread it I’m left with an eerie feeling that I protest too much. Why does it not feel like fiction?

    Reading your post, I realize that the emotions the story evokes are not actually fiction but drawn from my own emotional journey. The story is fiction but the feelings, at least many of them, are not. It doesn’t sound like a profound realization, but now I understand why I feel so connected to the main character. I love that feeling and will endeavor to recreate it in future writings. Thank you!!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s an interesting phenomenon how we can write something that is a “lie” and yet feel utterly exposed by it. “The lie that the tells the truth,” as John Dufresne would have it.

  18. Hi! I love your podcast! I’m a hobby writer of short essays and poetry with a dream of publishing something someday. Writing a whole novel feels huge and I’ve been starting with short stories. Do your story structure lessons apply to short fiction? Are there different techniques to shorter works? Thanks for putting all this into the world!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Short stories can be a bit of a wild card when it comes to structure. It all depends on what kind of story it is. Some short stories follow the classic three-act structure to the T – just on a much smaller scale.

      But then we also have short stories that are more vignettes – snapshots, moments. And they’re all about a single plot point at the end. The drama rises to that point, and then the story is over.

      For short stories, I recommend Joe Bunting’s Let’s Write a Short Story.

      You might also enjoy this video I made on the difference between novels and short stories: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qg32T-NQ7mg

  19. I had no idea I needed this post so much until I read it. Great timing! Like you, Katie, I’ve never been much of an emotional person. As a child I felt things keenly, but not often. Pain hurt the most, and beauty always made me ecstatic (like Emily Star’s “the flash” in the Emily Series by L.M. Montgomery). When I was still very little, my family went through a crisis that left me emotionally spent. I was more depressed than a child should be at that age. A year later, my grandmother died. I was sick of feeling like crying all the time and holding it in so others wouldn’t see my pain — yet wanting them to know all the same! — that I trained myself not to feel pain. But in doing that, I blocked out all other feelings. Fast-forward to today, I still feel emotionless sometimes. Some days I feel like a robot. I don’t say all this to ask for pity, but to give a little “backstory” into why it’s so hard for me to write emotional fiction. I love reading books that make me laugh, cry, hug it to my chest, or hurtle it across the room because I’m mad at a character. Mostly the protagonist when he does something stupid. But when it comes to writing fiction, I can’t get emotion in the text. My characters are like puppets on a string that I jerk once and a while. When someone read the first draft of my book, the same one I mentioned last week, they said the characters don’t show any emotion. My protagonist comes into the book with newly killed family members and newly destroyed home town, but she doesn’t cry about it. My beta readers also said that when there IS emotion, it is sudden and shallow and doesn’t make any sense.

    Sorry for the rant, but I guess I had to express how much this post meant for me. It points the way back for me to experience emotions again and let others experience them through my writing. Thanks, Katie!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I see you. I relate strongly to much of how you describe yourself and your experience here. Learning to feel my feelings has been one of the most exquisite chapters in my life to date. But learning to feel is also extremely painful and requires a tremendous amount of courage. I hold so much compassion and respect for all fellow travelers on that path!

      In addition to the techniques I’ve mentioned in this post, I will also say that perhaps the single biggest turning point for me in my own emotional journey was taking up yoga. I started it to help with chronic back pain, but the very first time I got on the mat, I was shocked to realize how good I felt emotionally. I was going through a dark place at the time where I never felt good, so the change was striking. From there, I committed to a daily practice of movement that helped me reconnect with my feelings through my body. Even just this morning when doing a quick scalp massage, I found emotions coming up that I never would have tapped if I wasn’t working with myself in a physical way.

      Anyway, I salute you! Rise and rise again. 🙂

  20. When I wrote my novel, I found that dialogue, stream of consciousness, and dream sequences lent a lot toward emotional depth as well as choice description of scenery or weather. They all worked together to weave mood and emotion throughout the book.

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