Medium,  Writing

Writing Emotional Scenes

Emotions are hard to experience, much less convey in your writing.

One of the hardest things we face as writers is conveying emotion. Using words to make someone feel — better yet, to make a reader understand your characters — is tricky.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m writing a book, and for the past few days, I’ve been making my way through an emotional scene in the book. It’s one where a main character opens up to another important character, and it’s extremely hard to write! When a character begins to slowly reveal layers of him or herself in a story, it’s like peeling back layers of an onion. The process can be a bit difficult as both a writer and a reader — peeling an onion makes you cry, after all.

But as I’ve written this particular scene, and others in past projects, I’ve learned that you can’t avoid the emotion. You have to embrace it — and take it slowly if you’re feeling the emotions along with your characters. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re writing emotional scenes in your story:

Stay true to your characters

This has a lot to do with your character’s motivations and how you’ve developed your characters so far both on and off the page. The character I’m working with now is a bit of a hard egg to crack. He doesn’t reveal much of himself to anyone, much less the character he’s talking with in the current emotional scene. So I’ve had to think — and write — carefully so that I stay true to him as a character. He wouldn’t suddenly spill his whole life story and overshare about his past. He might, though, reveal little tidbits about important things to him, slowly revealing more and more as time goes on. And it’s going to be extremely difficult for him to do this, even though it might seem like the bare minimum. So that’s what I have to keep in mind while writing. Stay true to the character’s personality, to their motivations, and to their traits.

Don’t shy away from going there

Wherever “there” might be for you and your story, don’t be afraid of it. In real life, people deal with difficult conversations and difficult truths. Your characters can, and probably should, do the same. Writing these things can be very hard, but if you don’t shy away from the hard scenes, your story will be better for it. This might mean that you end up writing about difficult topics like death, abuse, or mental illness, but it will also mean that your writing will identify with even more readers who have had to deal with these very things in their own lives. In order for characters to have meaningful relationships and believable actions, they often have to talk about and experience difficult and emotional things. Don’t be afraid to at least try your hand at writing these things!

Take your time

It’s okay to go slow when writing emotional scenes in your story. I was on a bit of a roll with my book, exceeding my daily word count goal, until I hit this scene. Now I’m still meeting my goal but not exceeding it. It’s taking me longer to write this particular scene because it deserves my attention, and it brings up feelings that I personally have dealt with in my own life. So I’m making sure to give the story, the characters, and me, the writer, plenty of time to give the emotions in this scene the attention they deserve. There’s no timeline for writing difficult emotional scenes — they need to flow naturally and be believable, so don’t force anything. Give yourself space to think, feel, and write — you’ll end up with a better scene for it.

So as you come upon a spot in your story where there might be difficult emotions and you, the writer, might feel any number of ways about how you’re going to convey those emotions well in your story, remember to give yourself grace. Take the time you need to convey those difficult emotions well and give your characters the space to feel in your writing. Your characters will thank you for it, and so will the readers who eventually get to laugh, cry, and feel alongside you.

Previously published in The Writing Cooperative

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