Writing Character Emotion

Five Expressions of Character Emotion

Reading is an exercise in empathy. When we read an effective story, we identify with its main characters and mirror their emotions. 

Indeed, the best stories get us to experience the events being portrayed. Studies have even shown that when readers encounter well-told stories, there’s cortex activity in their brains; that is, the areas of the brain that light up are literally the same areas that would light up were the readers experiencing first-hand the events they were reading about. 

Not all stories do this, mind you. The best do; the well-told stories do. 

And a big part of a story’s being well told has to do with how the writer gets readers to identify with characters’ emotions. In fact, it’s stories that convince us of the authenticity and validity of character emotions that ring truest experientially. 

In his book From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler claims that “emotions are . . . basically experienced, and therefore expressed in fiction, in five ways.”

Read the rest of this article over at DIYMFA: The Five Expressions of Character Emotion.

And once you’ve finished the article, come back here and try out Butler’s accompanying journal exercise, which I’ve included below. I’ve tried it out and it was tremendously illuminating and helpful in getting me to see how authentic his five expression are and how to render a character’s experience of those emotions.

Robert Olen Butler's 5 Expressions of Emotion

Try this journal exercise for better written interiority

TD Storm is an award-winning writer and teacher whose stories have appeared in a number of journals. His passion for storytelling and its inner workings inform his teaching, editing, and mentoring. He has worked with countless writers on personal essays, novels, short stories, and more. And he's been teaching since 1999.

  • This is the first time I’ve come across Butler and this book. His absolute conviction on how to write well, and not writing from the head, is petrifying! Thank you for introducing me to another perspective.

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