digging below surface emotions
We are taught early on to hide our emotions. If a sibling or friend says something mean to us, our caretaker says to ignore it. Boys are taught not to cry and girls are told they’re overreacting. Adults learn to show only socially acceptable, surface emotions.
When creating character emotions, writers should dig below surface feelings. When I first came across this Feeling Wheel, I was so joyful (excited/fascinated) by the possibilities. Knowing the deeper, raw emotions can create more complex character emotions and influences dialogue, as well. Emotions have a direct impact on how characters communicate, the words they use to convey or hide their true feelings, and the sound or tone of those words.
Here’s a scenario: Lexi and Tyler are preparing to go parasailing, something Tyler’s never attempted. Surface feelings: Lexi feels powerful. Tyler feels scared.
How would raw feelings affect dialogue for Lexi? If her powerful emotion stems from feeling important/discerning, she’s liable to speak like a leader using statements rather than questions. If they stem from feeling appreciated/valuable, she’ll probably ask questions and try to boost Tyler’s confidence.
How would raw feelings affect dialogue for Tyler? If his scared emotion stems for being anxious/overwhelmed, he’s liable to speak in clipped sentences. If they stem from insecure/embarrassed, he’ll probably turn into a comedian to cover his discomfort (Note: this is my character’s specific reaction to this emotion. Your characters might respond differently).
The feeling wheel can also be used to discover unexpected emotions. We can use the same parasailing scenario where Lexi feels powerful and Tyler scared and take it one step further. The two are on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Tyler has been cracking Nemo jokes. Instead of delving deeper into the fear spectrum, we could reshape Tyler's emotion into something on the opposite side of the spectrum such as contentment, serenity, or thankfulness. Or even an emotion near fear, such as hostility toward Lexi for her relaxed deposition or even jealousy of her lack of fear.
How do your characters respond differently to deeper, raw emotions? What kinds of things do they do to cover them up?
Writer of sweet and evocative fiction with a dark twist.