When we have emotions, they are accompanied by a range of mental and physical feelings. As authors, we should try to explore all the feelings (even the bad ones) in order to inform our writing and ensure it really reflects reality as closely as possible.
By becoming skilled at translating our own feelings into words that our characters experience, they feel more genuine and real.
Analysing and naming feelings
The first stage is to try to identify each feeling and emotion as exactly as possible.
At a most basic level, you could say that each feeling is good, bad, or neutral. But of course, each of these types can be split into many different variations of emotion, which don’t all sit on a flat sliding scale.
For example, under good we might have: happiness, joy, delight, relaxation, contentment, excitement and anticipation.
Under bad, we might have: sadness, anger, frustration, impatience, depression, discontent, irritation and rage.
Try to label your feelings as accurately as you can as a first stage of identifying the range of emotions and their tones.
Investigating the feeling tone
Once you have started identifying the vast range of emotions in your palette, you can start to look at them more closely in order to notice the tone and physical feelings associated with them. The more you do this the better you get at it and the more detail you notice, which you can then use to inform your writing.
Here are some examples:
Anger is energetic and speedy. It’s hot and explosive and doesn’t pause for thought. It makes you feel tenseand hot. Your heart and breath speed up to feed the energy usage. It often comes with a tightness in the chest.
Next time you’re angry, try to step out of the anger for a moment and experience it as if you were your own character. How would you describe the feeling to a reader? Which part of your body can you feel the strongest? How does it feel?
Delight is a particular facet of happiness that has an innocent, childlike quality to it. It is usually caused by outside stimulus and leaves us feeling light and buoyant. Our faces feel relaxed and ready to smile and our lungs fill with delicious air. We can feel giddy and lost in the moment and sometimes we might feel like the barriers between us and the rest of the world are not as thick and certain as they usually are.
Next time you feel delighted, try to identify the sensations in your body and mind that make up such a feeling. Notice how your relationship to the world around you changes.
Emptiness is a dark, grey feeling which is hollow and heavy at the same time. We lack energy, and everything seems pointless. Our limbs feel thick and clumsy. Sometimes we may feel unsteady, ungrounded. Our minds feel fuzzy, our thoughts trying to move through thick liquid. Emptiness often feels like it will last forever.
Next time you feel emptiness, try to analyse what makes it ‘emptiness’ and also how the feeling evolves. What immediately preceded the feeling of emptiness – did it come on suddenly or gradually? What happens as the feeling leaves?
By getting to know our own emotions and feelings and how the sensations affect us both physically and mentally, we expand our toolbox and prose writing depth and range. Bring your characters to life with descriptions of their feelings that really resonate with the reader, because they have their basis in real experience.