The Jane Doe Novel Experiment

Creating Two New Novels. Writing One Chapter Weekly. Podcasting As I Go. Welcome to The Experiment.

How to Avoid Boring Descriptions: Pt 3 – Emotions

Step 1: Expand your emotional database! Ask a person the first three emotions that come to mind and they may say: happy, sad, angry. This is a great start. What about: Frustrated? Depressed? Overwhelmed? Okay we’re getting somewhere. Keep going! Study your own reactions to everything. The sound of birds chirping, the feeling you get right before quitting time, the hug you get from your niece…how do you feel. Your characters feel those things, too.

Okay, now on to the actual writing suggestions:

Suggestion 1: Do not write the actual feeling, write how your character displays that feeling.

Is it a twitch? A hurried action? Does you mother have to tell you, “Dear, I’m upset with you.” or do you already know it from that look she just gave you? Our characters are the same way. They have actions, tell-tell signs, that let the other characters know how they are feeling. The other characters can pick up on it, and so can your reader.

Example: Carson allowed himself an undetectable deep breath while his piercing, dark brown eyes became fixed on the two women. As he exhaled, his fingers relaxed out of the fists he had made when approached with the insulting word, “cousin”.

What is Carson feeling? The above does two things. First, since it uses reactions we, as the reader, are accustomed to relating to certain emotions, it gets that emotion across without having to state it in a boring, straightforward way.

Second, it allows the reader to fill in the blank and become involved. The reader reads it and thinks, “Whoa! He must be —-!”

Suggestion 2: Do not write the actual feeling, write what your character wants to do to the cause of/as a reaction to the feeling.

This can be either a good or bad reaction! Oooh! And if you use this one, please, allow your mind to be creative. Here’s a line from Chapter 3, Part 2 (to post next week on the blog)!

Example: It was only day one and she already missed him like crazy. Just looking at his creamy, peanut butter complexion made her want to lick the screen for a taste.

My editor’s thoughts on the above: “I read chap 3 and I LOVE Dominic.  Peanut butter.  Never would’ve thought to use that as a description! It’s perfect.  You can see and taste him :)”

Enough said…or, I could have written, “She found him attractive.” What’s your pick? 😉 

Suggestion 3: It’s fine at times to simply write in plain English (or the language of your novel) how your character is feeling.

But, be mindful to write it in the way people actually talk. One thing people are not good at is accurately describing how they feel. Even if we do describe our emotions, we generally do not do so in black and white terms. Unless saying exactly how they feel perfectly each time is a skill of your characters, they shouldn’t either.

Think of yourself. When is the last time you said, “I’m confused”? Did you actually say, “I don’t get it,” or “I missed that part,” or “Can you say that one more time”?

What about, “I’m angry”? Did you really say, “Don’t talk to me right now,” or “I’m pissed off,” or “I swear I could…”?

Get the point? Make it believable and you will avoid making it boring.

Step 2: Learn that – yes, that is a feeling! Or, at least consider it a feeling and see what happens. This is creative writing after all!  

As always, all examples come from my, “podcast as I write” novel, Enough for Four:  Enjoy!


5 comments on “How to Avoid Boring Descriptions: Pt 3 – Emotions

  1. Tony Bird
    July 5, 2012

    Personally, I’m big on letting character actions show the emotion. After all, actions speak louder than words. 🙂

    • Jane Doe
      July 5, 2012

      Agreed! It is my favorite, too! And generally, it’s readers’ favorite as well, even if they don’t know why. When people quote a line from my writings that they like, it’s generally an emotion that was shown by action. =)

      PS – I left a comment on your Novel Writing: Lessons I Learned. ( It may have gone to your spam folder, so check there! (And mark me as “Not Spam” ^.^)

      • Tony Bird
        July 6, 2012

        Thanks! I just rescued your comment from the spam folder.

  2. littletash
    July 5, 2012

    Awesome advice. I had to do an exercise for a course this weekend where we all had to list every emotion we’d felt over the past 24 hours. It was really interesting, because you start with the main ones – the big three you have at the top of this post – but then you begin remembering the fleeting feelings you had when picking up the phone or stubbing your toe or falling asleep. We are complex little beings, and thus our characters ought to be too.

    • Jane Doe
      July 5, 2012

      It sounds like your course dropped you in the middle of “Step 1”. It does sound interesting! Please share a few of the notes you took describing your emotions during your 24 hours….a possible blog post?!?! 😉

      “We are complex little beings, and thus our characters ought to be too.” – Exactly!!!

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