Writing Exercise: Strong Emotions

Strong emotions often make for compelling writing. However, writers sometimes have trouble making their strong emotions ring true. They want people to be very angry, very passionate, very regretful and so on, but they don’t always provide enough reason for that feeling. They don’t build it up enough. They don’t make us believe it.

  • #9a. Write out a list of as many strong, interesting emotions as you can think of.
  • #9b. From the list in part a, pick an emotion. Write out as many popular ways to depict this emotion as you can think of — words, gestures, cliches, etc. Now think about real-life situations involving the emotion and write down some new and interesting ways you might depict it.
  • #9c. List the emotions that don’t seem to get much air time. Why do you think writers don’t play with them as much? Pick one and do something interesting with it. Brainstorm some ways you might use it in your writing and what benefits you could get out of that.
  • #9d. Free associate from the list created in part a or part c. What do these emotions make you think of? Keep listing!
  • #9e. Pick an emotion from one of those lists and write out ways in which it’s shown up in your own life. How has it impacted you? How have you (and the people around you) displayed and reacted to that emotion?
  • #9f. Pick an emotion that intrigues you. Pick one that you’d like to play with in a story or other piece of writing. List out a number of reasons why someone might feel this emotion. Note the ideas that seem particularly interesting or useful.
  • #9g. Outline a story, novel, poem, or article that you might write based around one of these emotions.

Characters and Emotions

Of course, you need characters in order to have emotions in your writing! For these exercises, either make up a new character, use one from a previous piece of writing, or use one from someone else’s writing.

  • #9h. What emotions can you easily imagine this character feeling? List them.
  • #9i. List the things that provoke each of these emotions in this
  • #9j. List the ways in which the character displays these emotions.
  • #9k. Have the character try to explain how he feels to someone in a monologue or dialogue.
  • #9l. If there are any events that trigger particularly strong emotional reactions in him, think about why. If any of them are linked to past events, then write up those events — as journal entries, scenes, dialogues, or anything else that seems appropriate.
  • #9m. Pick an emotion you can’t easily imagine this character feeling. What circumstances could provoke that feeling in her?
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