Creating a powerful scene (character's emotions)

Question: In any of my book ideas someone dies or someone get very emotionally hurt. I picture what the character are doing and how they act but I don't know how to put that feeling in the writing so that the reader will feel the characters pain so that they'll feel that it's happening to them. How can I work on that?

Answer: Robert Olen Butler identifies five levels where emotions come from.

1. Sense reactions within the body. Do we feel hot, cold, tense, relaxed, pounding or racing heart, energetic, listless, etc.

2. How we react on the outside: facial expression, gesture, tone of voice, words, etc.

3. Memory. For example, does the event (friend's death) trigger flashes of past times shared with the friend? What's the emotional content of those memories?

4. Future expectations. E.g. how do we now picture the future without the friend who's died? What will/won't happen now that he's gone? What's the emotional content of those images?

5. Selectivity. This is our tendency to only notice the significant details in the world around us. And it's our emotions that determine which details we find significant. So when we're sad, we may notice how bleak and dismal everything around us is, whereas if we are happy, we notice all the cheerful things.

Try to address these five levels when describing how your character reacts to an event. What sensations to they feel bodily? How do they react externally? What memories or images of the future come to mind? What does your character notice in the external world that reflects his/her emotional state?

You'll find that often it's not necessary to actually write something like, "Dave felt sad." If you have included the right details about what Dave is perceiving and how he physically reacts, his emotional state will be obvious to the reader. What's more, these details will make it easier for the reader to see himself in Dave's shoes and feel Dave's emotion.

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