Showing Character Emotion

You want to avoid directly stating emotions in your writing. You’ve all heard it before: show, don’t tell. If your character is feeling anger, avoid telling the reader that “Sheila was mad.” Emotion stated so directly is not particularly convincing, and it certainly doesn’t make the character feel alive to the reader. Details are convincing. Instead, describe Sheila’s demeanor. What does she see, think, feel, taste, or smell?


  • Understanding your own emotions will help you write your characters in specific emotional states. Describe a moment when you were afraid to the point of being terrified.
  • Put emotions into scenes of action. Create a scene about a chocolate-obsessed woman.
  • Use lively dialogue. A teenage girl tells her father: “It’s all your fault.” Rewrite her accusation and her father’s response, using strong emotion.
  • Use fresh imagery. Create a character who’s favorite place is the beach. Describe her thoughts as she stands on the sand and looks out at the ocean; use specific, imaginative, and active verbs.
  • Using active verbs and specific nouns, create a scene from the viewpoint of a character who is running from a knife-wielding killer.
  • Show, don’t tell. Describe a jealous woman as she confronts her husband and his lover.
  • Appeal to the reader’s senses when entering into your character’s emotions. Put a character in Disneyland for the very first time. Describe his or her feelings, using all five senses.

These creative exercises came from the course Character Development: Creating Memorable Characters

You will learn:

  • The difference between showing and telling and when it’s good to tell instead of show
  • How to balance showing and telling to create memorable characters and realistic, seamless dialogue
  • How the right mix of showing and telling can help you establish a powerful narrative voice
  • How to enhance your story’s conflict by knowing when to show and when to tell
  • How theme differentiates drama and melodrama
  • How to writer tighter, more powerful scenes
  • How a unique style distinguishes stories that have similar plots

Learn More About our Character Development: Creating Memorable Characters Workshop!

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