character emotion

How to Make Readers Feel Your Characters’ Emotions

how to make readers feel character emotionI’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that your story forces your character to experience some pretty deep emotions. They might fall in love, or undergo the agony of a family member’s death, or even be wracked by guilt.

Whatever the case, how do you go about portraying those emotions so powerfully that readers feel them too? Easy—by showing them through characters’ actions.

East of the Mountains David GutersonWe find a beautiful example of this in East of the Mountains by David Guterson.

While spending the night hunting with his two Brittany Spaniels, the protagonist runs afoul of a pack of Irish wolfhounds pursuing a coyote. The wolfhounds and the Brittanies tangle, leaving one of the protagonist’s beloved dogs terribly wounded and the other missing.

Guterson could easily have slipped into maudlin sentimentality in explaining the protagonist’s outrage and grief. But doing so would probably have served to distance readers rather than draw them in.

Instead, Guterson never so much as mentions the protagonist’s anguish. In sparse, delicate language, he shows the protagonist searching for his missing dog and eventually discovering it with a broken neck. We see him carry the dog across the sageland, dig its grave, and gently lay it in its final resting place. Not for one instant do we doubt this man’s love for his dog or his sorrow at its wanton and cruel death.

Because the author already spent half the book establishing the protagonist’s character and his fondness for his dogs, we know without being told that the character will grieve the animal’s passing. The unadorned portrait of his grief’s manifestation only drives the point that much deeper.

This is an exemplary model of how you can show a scene so powerfully your readers understand the emotional impact without any extra explanation.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What emotion from your characters have you recently shown readers? 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.

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  1. […] not only what a character explicitly thinks or says that forms our idea of them. It’s also elements of action, from details as small as body language to larger […]

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