Creating Character Emotions – Gail Pallotta

My guest this week is Gail Pallotta, author of Breaking Barriers. I hope you enjoy her tips on creating character emotions.

Portrait shot  Gail Pallotta

Gail: Lately, I’ve heard the more emotion the characters in a story exhibit, the more interesting they and the book become. So, I’ve been exploring ways to create their emotions.

Some physical descriptions that work are lips turned down or shoulders slumping for someone sad; fists balled up ready to strike and a red face for an angry person. Of course, happy characters lips turn up on the corners and their eyes dance or twinkle.

We can also use similes and metaphors and relate them to our particular stories to show emotion. For instance, in a book about a circus, we could describe a sad person as looking like the clown after someone drew tears on his cheeks. If we were writing a book about a quarterback, and he was making a life decision with his wife, he might chew his lip as if he tried to decide what to do on fourth and goal. A wife arguing with her husband while she’s cooking breakfast might have his words turn her brain to scrambled eggs. In a war story, a soldier possibly would stare at someone as though he had him in missile lock. These poetic devices used in conjunction with the subjects of our book keep the reader tuned into our stories and show emotions.

Even though we’re told clichés are a no-no, it’s fine to change them to show emotion. I enjoy swimming, so I like to put swimmers in my books. If one of them becomes weak for one reason or another, I can have them grow as limp as a wet bathing suit as opposed to as limp as a wet dishrag. Other clichés that we could use include someone who’s as angry as a wasp instead of angry as a hornet. We might have a heroine who believes the grass is always greener on the other side. We can’t say that, but we can write she thinks her neighbor’s flowers bloom brighter than hers.

Even after learning how important emotions are and how to give them to my characters, I sometimes get wrapped up in the story and leave the characters on their own. According to my editor for Barely Above Water, Paula Mowery, one good way to make sure I’ve put in emotion is to do a search for telling words, such as “felt,” “sad,” “lonely,” “happy,” “sorry,” and “guilty.” Then take those out and describe how the character looked when he or she experienced that particular emotion.

These are a few of the devices I’ve picked up in my writing journey and try to use in interesting ways to let the reader know how my characters feel.

Book Blurb for Breaking Barriers: In this action-packed thriller gunshots ring out as Ann Jones enters church. She hides in the bathroom until they stop then stumbles into the sanctuary. The congregation lies dead in pools of blood. To rebuild the church she starts True Light Guardians. At the first meeting she’s attacked by a terrorist but rescued by James Crawford. He melts her heart, cold from her father’s abuse, and they fall for each other. She’s afraid to commit to love that might grow angry later like the type she knew as a child. James yearns to stop other attempts on Ann’s life, but can’t. Tormented by her constant risks, he breaks up with her. When an assault sends her to the hospital, an unlikely ally shares Ann’s plight with James, but he reveals a lead that puts all three of them in even more danger.

Click HERE to buy Breaking Barriers:

LoveIs_BreakingBarriers web size

Bio: Award-winning author Gail Pallotta’s a wife, Mom, swimmer and bargain shopper who loves God, beach sunsets and getting together with friends and family. A former regional writer of the year for American Christian Writers Association, she won Clash of the Titles in 2010. A 2013 Grace Awards finalist, she’s been a best-selling author on All Romance eBooks. She’s published five books, poems, short stories, and several hundred articles. Some of her articles appear in anthologies while two are in museums. Gail loves to connect with readers.

Visit Gail her on her WEBSITE 

Gail is giving away an eBook copy to a lucky winner. Leave a comment for your chance to win. A name will be randomly selected on Wednesday June 29. Good luck, everybody.



13 thoughts on “Creating Character Emotions – Gail Pallotta

  1. Great post. I particularly like the use of simile and metaphor to capture the emotion. I so often rely on actions, twitches, and facial expressions. You have given me a few new ideas to infuse in my writing. Thanks Gail!

    • Thanks Rebecca. As Gail points out, it’s very important to ‘show’ expressions. To add to Gail’s — and Paula’s — idea on how to make sure you’ve put in emotion, there are great books out there that deal specifically with this topic. This said, thanks for dropping in and good luck in the draw.

  2. Gail thank you for the great tips. Editing my first book, so perfect timing. 🙂
    Looking forward to reading your book.

  3. I love the idea of searching for common descriptive words, such as “sad” and “happy”, and replacing them with sensory descriptions and analogies. Sometimes we’re not even aware of those everyday words. They sneak into our sentences and hide in our paragraphs! Thank you for the post!

    • Great point, Sara. When I struggled with “Show-Don’t-Tell”, I read something like “Don’t tell me she’s angry, show me her baring teeth, clenched jaw, and tight fists.” It stayed with me and now, like Gail described, I do a search for emotions and change things around. One awesome book and. MUST HAVE I want to point out on this subject is the Emotions Thesaurus. It’s helped countless writers, specially those who struggle with Show don’t tell. Well worth it. It is available on Amazon. Good luck in the draw.

  4. Thank you to all those who left a comment. A random name was selected and Robert is the winner of Gail’s book, BREAKING BARRIERS. She’ll be in touch with you soon.

    Until next time, be blessed, everyone.

  5. Great post and insight as to using some cliches to make characters great.

    Best of luck with your continued success, Gail!

    Thanks for reading and writing,

    Sarah Butland
    author of Being Grateful, Being Thankful

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