Expressing Emotion in Writing

Expressing Emotion in Writing

by Patrick Hodges

As an author, it’s normal to look at our past works and wonder, “OMG, what was I thinking?” Obviously, rookie mistakes are normal when you’re a fledgling writer, but whether you are writing your first book or your tenth, I have some advice that may help you.

If a story doesn’t touch us on at least a basic emotional level, we tend to find ourselves becoming bored. And it’s not always easy for a character to display emotion in a way that will cause a reader to understand it.


What do I mean? Well, let’s say you’re writing a particularly scary scene. One would expect the characters to show signs of fear, right? If the author simply writes, “She suddenly felt scared,” does that get the message across? Sure it does, but does it really connect? Do you feel her fear? Probably not.

I recently purchased a book called The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca emotional-thesaurusPuglisi, and let me tell you, it is a veritable fount of information. It offers examples of nearly every way a person might display emotions such as anxiety, depression, doubt, relief, impatience, love, worry, or, yes, abject terror.

Returning to my previous example: let’s say your character has found herself locked in a haunted house with a dead body, and she is surrounded by all kinds of weird creaking, clanking noises. Obviously, you’d expect her to be scared out of her mind. But how would you relay that to your readers?

Here is a short list of attributes associated with terror, both interior and exterior:

  • Full body tremors
  • Squeezing eyes shut
  • Trembling lips
  • Flaring nostrils
  • Clutching one’s throat
  • Racing pulse
  • Weak legs
  • Dizziness, seeing black spots

The book also includes mental responses such as hyper-vigilance, sensitivity to noise, etc. It literally explores every avenue an emotion can take. It even includes writers’ tips at the end of each section.

I cannot express in words just how much this has helped me in my writing. If you could see me, I’d be expressing the signs of gratitude: glowing eyes, open palms, blowing a kiss… well, you get the point.


Patrick Hodges lives in Arizona with his wife of 15 years,
Patrick HodgesVaneza. After doing weekly columns for entertainment-related websites, he has turned his attention to writing fiction. He is passionate about sending positive messages to young people. Patrick has authored three books: Joshuas Island, Ethan’s Secret, and Sophie’s Different. You may reach him at or “like” him on Facebook.

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4 Responses to Expressing Emotion in Writing

  1. Marcie Brock says:

    Great tip, Patrick. Thanks for sharing!


  2. bchatzkel says:

    Patrick — a great resource for writers. Thanks!! (I guess I could have used a more descriptive phrase than “great”)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing this resource, Patrick. I agree, and I want all my readers to display the emotion shown in the character in top-row-third, and second-row-first. In other words, how many ways can I say “laugh yourself silly?”


  4. Thank you so much for the info. I will have to check the Emotion Thesaurus out 🙂


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