Showing Emotion in Writing (a guest blog by Robin Patchen)

This is such a helpful article by Robin Patchen on how to best show our emotions.

How do most of us (note—I’m one of the us) show emotions in our stories? Often, we use physiological responses. Here are a few:

  • Sad—eyes filling with tears
  • Angry—fists clenching or slamming stuff
  • Worried—gut twisting
  • Happy—smiling, grinning, laughing, chuckling, giggling

It works, it’s easy, and it makes the point. It’s perfect.

Maybe not.

It has been said that the purpose of fiction is to evoke an emotional reaction. So let me ask you, when you read the words, “Her eyes filled with tears,” do yours? Because mine don’t. And I don’t even know what a twisting gut feels like. Those phrases may show us how your character feels, but they don’t evoke any emotions. So how do we make our readers feel along with our characters?

I don’t have a step-by-step plan. However, I have recently had an epiphany. Counselors tell us that thoughts lead to emotions, and emotions lead to actions. So what happens if you show us your characters’ thoughts and actions? Seems to me their feelings will be obvious, and you won’t need to tell us about their rumbling guts and teary eyes. And if you do it right, you can make the reader feel what your characters do. An example:

John hefted his bag and limped down the metal stairs, forcing himself not to rub that sore spot. Plenty of guys had worse injuries than his. He stared across the tarmac. A band played on the left. An array of dignitaries stood in his way. He scanned the crowd. They held signs that read Welcome home and God bless our heroes.

It was time to be a different kind of hero.

She stood beyond the suited politicians. His wife had curled her hair that day, just like he liked it. A year had passed since he’d seen her last. A year of dust and death, of protecting the innocent and chasing the guilty. A year he’d never get back.

He circled the official greeters, ignoring the protest from his colonel, and approached her. He stopped a few feet away and peered at the bundle she held in her arms. His wife shifted so he could look. Three months old. Blue eyes that looked so much like his own. Curly brown hair. The baby smiled and then turned away. John returned his gaze to his wife. “He’s perfect.”

“He looks like you.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t—”

She stepped into his arms. “You’re here now. Home and safe. That’s all that matters.”

In that scene, we read the man’s thoughts, and we see his actions. His gut didn’t twist at the sight of those dignitaries. His heart didn’t speed up as he scanned the crowd for his wife. His eyes didn’t fill with tears when he saw his child for the first time. But he did feel something. Did you?

So how did it work? A few observations:

1-Start with a character your readers care about. I took the easy road and created a wounded hero, but I only had 200 words to work with. With an entire novel and some skill, you can make your readers care about almost anyone.

2-Let the character’s thoughts reflect his feelings. He thinks about his time overseas—“A year of dust and death…” and follows it up with, “A year he’d never get back.” Do you hear regret?

3-Give us a glimpse of the character’s desire. In this case, I added that one remark—“It was time to be a different kind of hero.” Life as he knew it was not enough for John. He wanted something more.

4-Use compelling dialog. He could have said, “Hello.” She could have responded with, “How was your trip?” But while those ordinary expressions are realistic, they don’t mean anything. Instead, dump all the banal stuff and make your dialog reflect your characters’ emotions.

5-Use snapshots to set your scene. Show the scene through the eyes of your character, so his description reflects his feelings. The dignitaries weren’t just in front of him, they “stood in his way.” He immediately looked past them to scan the crowd. And if you can think of a snapshot that resonates with readers, use it. In this case, I used a welcome home reception for soldiers. I think that touches a lot of us.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of how to charge your scenes with emotion, but it’s a start. I challenge you to go through your manuscript and find every place you’re showing emotions through physiological responses. See where you can use description, thoughts, actions, and dialog (another form of action) to evoke that emotion instead. You probably won’t be able to rid your manuscript of every tear, but maybe if your characters cry less, your readers will cry more.


Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, released in April. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at her website,

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Posted in The Writing Craft


Traditional vs. Indie publishing… Which route is best for you?

So you’ve just finished your first novel. Great… check that off your bucket list. Now what? With all the self publishing hype and traditional publishing history, it’s so hard to decide which path to venture down! Here’s a nifty flow chart from that was fun to play. I actually manipulated it both ways just because it reminded me of Candy Land and I love seeing what routes go which direction.

























Looking for a more detailed explanation of each point? Here’s the full questionnaire.

1. Do you hope to become a millionaire from your writing? 

If so, consider that for every J. K. Rowling, there are a million Henry Herzs. Who’s Henry Herz? Exactly. Go to 10.

If not, very good. You have realistic expectations. Go to 2.

2. Are you willing to work hard? Very hard? 

If not, you’ll need to change your attitude. Honing one’s writing craft and becoming traditionally published take a Sisyphusean work ethic. Go to 10.

If so, very good. You have realistic expectations. Go to 3.

3. Why do you want to be published? 

If you’re seeking the sense of accomplishment and bragging rights that accompany traditional publishing, good for you. Go to 4.

If you’re seeking personal growth, career development, speaking opportunities or want to see your writing in a physical book, good for you. Go to 8.

4. Have you built a community of people who want to buy your book?

Before you publish your book, make sure there’s a market for it and start building your author platform. Is selling 10,000 or more copies a realistic prospect? If so, fantastic. Go to 5.

If not, you should recognize that publishing is a business. Publishers won’t accept a project if they can’t reasonably expect to make a profit. Go to 10.

5. Is your skin too thin to withstand a hail of criticism and a deluge of rejections? 

Does your critique group consist of your mom and your spouse because you only want to hear that your manuscript is fabulous? If so, go to 10.

If not, you appreciate that it is precisely the tough love offered by critique groups, beta readers, agents and editors that strengthens a manuscript and sharpens yourwriting. Go to 6.

6. Are you in a hurry to see your book traditionally published? 

By “hurry”, I mean less than 18 to 24 months — a common timeline for publication. If so, you may not be aware of all the steps performed by traditional publishers in preparing, printing, and promoting a book. Go to 10.

If not, you have enough patience to be traditionally published. Go to 7.

7. Are you willing to follow publishing industry standards and the guidance of a professional editor? 

If not, you must recognize editors have standards because they know from experience what works and what doesn’t. Your 3″ by 3″ 200-page dystopian picture book concept may be unique, but it probably won’t sell. Go to 10.

If so, you trust editors’ professionalism. Congratulations — you’re ready to pursue traditional publication! Go to 11.

8. Do you have the time and skills to publish, promote your book, fulfill orders and run a business? 

Or do you have the money to pay others to do so? If not, perhaps you didn’t realize that the indie publishing path means you must have both writing and publishing skills. In addition to your role as an author, you must be an illustrator, an editor, an art director, a salesperson and a businessperson. Go to 10.

If so, impressive! Go to 9.

9. Are you well-organized? 

Do you use calendars, spreadsheets, to-do lists and other tools to plan and keep track of your tasks, expenditures, sales and revenue?

If not, please recognize that running a business by using a shoebox to file your receipts is a recipe for disaster. Go to 10.

If so, you understand the benefits of being organized. Congratulations — you’re ready to indie publish! Go to 11.

10. You’re not ready — yet

If you’ve landed here, it means you’ve realized that you’re not yet ready for publication.

Don’t despair — while you may not be ready now, you may simply need to make a small tweak. Maybe that means saving up money to pay an illustrator, learning new skills or adopting more realistic expectations.

11. Indie versus traditional publishing

Let’s wrap up with a quick comparison of the benefits of each path.

The benefits of indie publishing include:

  • Publication is guaranteed: You know you’ll be published, since you’re the one making it happen.
  • Move at your own pace: Publish as quickly or as slowly as you’d like.
  • Full transparency and control: You make all decisions about creating, publishing and promoting your book, so you know what’s going on with every aspect of your project.
  • Set your own standards: You decide what your book will look like.

The benefits of traditional publishing include:

  • The publisher pays expenses: Someone else picks up all the costs.
  • Your team brings expertise: Your editor and agent know their jobs well and make your book as strong as possible.
  • You’re only responsible for writing: The publisher doesn’t expect you to be a copy editor, art director or marketing guru.
  • Wider potential audience: The resources and connections of a traditional publisher often lead to wider exposure.

The lesson? Your publishing decision should not be taken lightly.

While self-publishing gives you all the control and all the profits, it also means you’re responsible for all the expenses and all the work.

If you’ve published a book, how did you decide between self-publishing and traditional publishing? If you haven’t published yet, what are you considering?

Once again, this is from – Awesome site!


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