I Feel Your Pain

Update: A winner has been randomly chosen for Eliza Knight’s Edit Your Manuscript in a Month. Congratulations to Samanthya Wyatt!

Since I’m just returning from the Romantic Times Convention where I spent two days teaching the Aspiring Writers, I’m still in educator mode. I didn’t give the My Husband Married a Hooker workshop this time, but when I do, one of the first things I tell my students is the strongest hook a writer can set is an emotional one. Grab your reader’s heart and they’ll keep turning pages.

Today, my blog guest Eliza Knight offers her take on how to set those emotional hooks.

Writing Emotion into Scenes

Thank you for hosting me today Mia!

What is the one thing that can make or break your readers connection to your characters? Come on, take a guess?

Did you say or think, emotions?

According to Miriam-Webster dictionary, emotion = a conscious mental reaction subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.

Emotions can illicit visceral responses from your readers, but it also makes your characters come alive, makes them real.  When writing fiction, you want your characters to be as believable and realistic as possible, and unless you’re dealing with a sociopathic narcissist who displays zero reaction and talks in monotones, you will most likely have real emotions and real feelings both internally and externally with your characters—make them leap off the page. Each scene needs to show us how the character feels, making the scene more visceral

How can you show emotions?

~The senses

~Deep POV



Emotions are in everything we do and say, our thoughts, our actions, our words.

When I’m writing an emotional scene, I like to close my eyes and visualize my character(s). I go through everything. What is happening? What are they feeling physically? What is their mental state? What is the setting? How does what is happening right then affect them physically, mentally, their future? Knowing all of these things, I put it all into the scene.

Here’s an (unedited) excerpt from my current WIP, A Knight’s Victory.

The dreams of childhood, how wrong they’d been.  All those years she’d worried that Michael would leave Ireland, not her.  Now look at the future she’d been dealt.  Elena bit the inside of her cheek to keep her jaw from quivering.  This was not the time to cry, not the time to think on how things could have been.

Oh, but how she longed to let Michael embrace her, kiss her.

“My lady.”

Those two simple words stroked along her insides, curling up and settling in the pit of her stomach. The way he’d leaned down and placed his soft lips against her hand, sent her heart aflutter.  His breath was heated, sensual, and the feather light kiss was over far too quickly. The skin of her hand still tingled where his lips had been—her gloves now constrictive.

In the above scene I’ve conveyed some of her internal conflict, how it makes her feel, and what she wishes for the future, her desire. Her emotions and physical response are present.

Here is another excerpt from my upcoming Carina Press release, Lady Seductress’s Ball, that shows emotion of a different sort—disappointment, reflection, self-soothing.

Olivia, Countess of March, descended the steps to join her husband in the foyer when she heard the first carriage pull to a stop outside their house. The guests were arriving. She was nervous and excited at the same time.

The earl stood crisp and clean in a new suit of grey. His shoes shined so that she could make out the blonde of her hair. Always immaculate. Not a hair out of place, not an emotion ever showing on his face.

He nodded to her and pulled her in for a cool kiss on the cheek. Even this public display of affection was odd for him. She tempered the urge to raise a brow in question and simply took what he gave her.

For the umpteenth time since she’d been forced to marry him, Olivia reminded herself, that it had been her parents’ dying wish as they both lay ill abed with consumption, dying within days of each other. Marry the Earl of March, dear. Her mother had said. Her protests were waved away, with her father simply saying, Do as your mother has instructed. She’d been honor-bound to do as they asked, and wished with all her heart she’d been selfish enough to break her betrothal following her parents’ death.

I seem to have a recurring theme in the two above stories—that of wanting what you can’t have. I think a lot of readers (although they most likely won’t have had arranged marriages) can connect with a character who longs for something they can’t have.

Remember that your characters have their own individual personalities. When you are writing in their emotions, make sure that it’s a reaction that would be appropriate for that character—and if it is a break from character you need to have a good explanation why.  Example: Your character is normally quite stoic, hides their emotions, and keeps their thoughts to themselves. Then tragedy hits. For a moment, they are lost in the strength and harshness of their own pain. Their stoic countenance breaks, and the break may be witnessed by others or not. But in any case, when the character regains control, they will have other emotions about having broken—mortification perhaps, or relief at being able to react.

Here is a scene from my historical fiction WIP, My Lady Viper, in which she loses control in a public place.

Then her last words struck home. Indiscretions. Fury bubbled to the surface and I stifled a scream. My fingernails dug deep into my palms. Indiscretions!  Forsooth, she would never view Surrey’s rape and abuse of my body as anything other than my own fault on account of my dirty and whorish disposition! In her mind, and that of Sir Richard Page, I am the one to blame.

My hands came up and I slapped at the stone wall, my teeth grinding. “Bitch!” I slapped again harder, and harder, until my palms stung and my hair hung loose around my shoulders. My breathing was heavy, and my heart pounded against my ribs.

Slowly I came back to myself and realized where I was. A passing groomsmen scurried away. Stoically, I smoothed my skirts, and hair, taking deep cleansing breaths.

I lost my temper, and in a corridor! I crossed myself and walked quietly away, praying no one had born witness to it.

Emotions, while they are important in emotional scenes, are also important in non-emotional scenes. The reader should be able to “feel” what your character feels at every turn.

Here’s an example of my character from my upcoming erotic historical romance Ellora’s Cave release, A Pirate’s Bounty, which shows her irritation, her desire for a bath, but also the churlish crewman’s attitude as well.

The door opened and in hobbled several crewmen carrying a copper tub, followed by numerous buckets of warm, steaming water.

“A bath?” she asked.

“Aye, his cap’nship wants a bath fer hisself,” one of the crew stated while pouring a steaming bucket into the tub.

Faryn’s nostrils flared in indignation. Didn’t she too deserve a bath? She looked toward the water bowl and basin she’d been using, filled only with cold water. As soon as the crew left, she would fill it with warm water from the captain’s tub. Even if she couldn’t submerge herself in a hot, delicious bath, she would at least have warm water to wash her face and body with.

“Now, don’t ye be usin’ his cap’nships bath!” the insolent Churl warned. “He don’t like no second handlins’ of the water.”

She rolled her eyes and turned away in a huff.

In romance, readers will expect more emotion than you would find in other genres. We are writing about relationships—developing relationships—which are rife with emotions. If your writing is lacking in feeling, emotional response, senses, thoughts, etc… Then your readers will not connect, they will be irritated and disappointed. Don’t let your readers down by not putting yourself out there, by not digging deep into your characters and leaving their heads and hearts wide open on the pages of your story.

Here’s another (unedited) excerpt from Lady Seductress’s Ball, that I hope conveys a progression of the romance, and the emotional responses of both characters.


She whirled around and jumped a little, a squeak sounding from her mouth. Her foot caught on the hem of her dress, nearly tumbling her to the ground. She quickly righted herself, smoothed her skirts and patted her hair before facing the man who’d startled her.

It was the Earl of Newcastle bathed in the sultry moonlight. Lord, he was handsome. And every move he made dripped sensuality. She felt herself taking a step closer to him, if only to feel the heat floating around his hard, lithe body.

“My lord,” she said with a curtsy, her voice a throaty whisper.

“What are you doing out here all by yourself?” His voice was husky. Was that desire emanating from its depths?

“I needed some fresh air.” She walked into the gazebo and sat on one of the cushioned chaise lounges. “What are you doing?”

“I came to find you.” His grey eyes were hooded, and he looked so temptingly dangerous.

“Why, me?” she asked coyly and flipped open her fan. Her breaths were coming in quick little pants and her nipples ached, nearly protruding from the top of her gown.

Good lord, what was she going to do?

“You know why,” he said in a throaty drawl.

He sauntered into the gazebo and came to stand in front of her. Olivia gulped, her throat dry and her heart beating loudly in her ears.

“I do?”

He held out his hand to her. “I’ve missed my dance tonight.”

Those weren’t the words she expected, and she raised a brow, waving her fan furiously.

“There was no dancing tonight.”

His hand was still outstretched and without thinking, she slipped her gloved fingers into his grip.

“I know.”

And last but not least, remember, even villains have emotions—don’t leave them in the dark. You may not always have their POV in your story, but you can show their emotions through their dialogue, actions and interactions with the other characters.

Here’s a list of emotions your characters might feel:

Happy, sad, jealous, angry, surprised, shocked, uncertain, desire, love, scorn, pity, shame, humor, affectionate, distressed, elated, depressed, heartbroken, excited, peaceful, scared, terrified, threatened, pride, embarrassed, confused, betrayed, frustrated, cowardly, pain, hope, passion, curious, vengeful, complacent.

For a longer list of emotions and some physical responses to emotions check out these links:

~List of Human Emotions – http://www.listofhumanemotions.com

~Aristotle’s List of Emotions – http://spot.colorado.edu/~hauserg/ArEmotList.htm

~Nature of Emotions – http://www.fractal.org/Bewustzijns-Besturings-Model/Nature-of-emotions.htm

~Basic Emotions (broken into primary, secondary and tertiary) – http://changingminds.org/explanations/emotions/basic%20emotions.htm

Eliza Knight is the multi-published author of romance, erotic romance, historical fiction and the non-fiction book, EDIT YOUR BOOK IN A MONTH. Visit Eliza at www.elizaknight.com, www.authormichellebrandon.com or www.historyundressed.blogspot.com


Thanks for visiting us today, Eliza.

Be sure to leave a comment or question for her. She’s giving away two prizes! One commenter will receive Edit Your Book in a Month and another person will win an ebook of Her Captain Dares All!

49 thoughts on “I Feel Your Pain

  1. I loved the excerpts, Eliza, and your premise is “right on.” The emotional appeal can make or break a scene.
    What I hate is when I search for the exact word to convey what I want the reader to know/feel, and then the editor simplifies the word – taking the emotion down several levels.

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thank you Regina! That’s happened to me before too… You can always tell the editor how you feel about it, often they will be receptive to it.

      Happy writing!

  2. Samanthya Wyatt says:

    Thanks for the great examples. I’ve had the privilege of taking your Medieval class and working as coordiantor on contests. I’ve read your posts and admire your work. You have a wealth of info and the examples teach us and make us want to connect with our readers – if I ever get published. I’d love to have any/all of your books.

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thank you Samanthya! You are so sweet! I’m glad you’ve found my info/work helpful!! Keep on writing!

  3. Great post, Eliza. Thanks for having Eliza on your blog, Mia! I loved the excerpts and those links are definitely worth their weight in gold!

    I am curious as to whether you use music to place yourself in the right emotional place to write certain scenes. And do you have different music picked out for different emotional content?

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I choose a movie sound track for each of my manuscripts. The advantages are there are generally no lyrics to distract me. The sound tracks offer a wide range of emotion and when the revisions come back months later, putting the music on again sends me right back into the world of my story.

      1. Eliza Knight says:

        Thanks Louisa!

        Movie soundtracks are awesome. I also like to listen to period music since I write mainly historicals. Having that background noise can often put you in that scene. Happy writing!

  4. Barbara Britton says:

    Thanks Eliza and Mia for this post. The resources and examples you gave Eliza, are helpful.
    You certainly have a way with emotion!

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thank you Barbara! I’m glad you found it helpful :)

  5. Amy Pfaff says:

    This is a great article. I struggle with getting what I want my characters to feel onto the page. It’s like there’s a walla between me and the page.

    Are there any good exercises for overcoming this?


    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I guess it’s my theater background, but for me, playing the scene in my mind, perhaps even speaking the dialogue aloud, gets me in touch with what’s roiling beneath the surface of my characters. Every emotion has a corresponding physical sensation in the body. Discover what those are for your characters and you’ll be able to show us what they are feeling.

      1. Eliza Knight says:

        Mia’s suggestion is excellent, I often do the same thing, let it mull through your mind, and go through every sensation, thought, feeling as if you were there before attempting to write it.

  6. Kelly Bishop says:

    The excerpts really help me understand your point. Thanks!

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thanks Kelly! That’s what I was hoping :)

  7. Gerri Bowen says:

    Very informative post, Eliza!

  8. Excellent post and GREAT examples. I know when I connect emotionally to a book, it goes on my “keeper” shelf. :-)

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Maeve. Congratulations again on winning the Writing with the Stars Contest and your new publishing contract with Kensington!

      1. Eliza Knight says:

        Ditto on the congrats Maeve! And I totally agree, if a book gets me going on the inside, it is definitely a keeper and one I recommend to friends too.

  9. So many intriguing ideas. My creative juices are churning out plot lines now. Thanks for all of the good ideas, Eliza!!

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      You’re welcome Paisley :) Happy writing!

  10. Zanna Dobbs says:

    Writing good is about learning. I really like that most writers are so willing to share their knowledge. Thank you both.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      You’re welcome, Zanna. I’ve always been impressed by the open-handedness of my fellow writers. We’re just trying to pay it forward here.

      1. Eliza Knight says:

        Thank you Zanna!

        Mia is spot on! Pay it forward :) I’ve found that the majority of writers are more than willing to help their fellow writers out.

        Happy writing!

  11. Sandy says:

    Eliza, what great examples of emotion.

  12. Brenda says:

    Thanks. Wonderful post and great links. I appreciate any tips that can help my writing shine.

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      You’re welcome Brenda! Thanks for stopping by :)

  13. Lulu says:

    Great post! I love the emotion – I feel a definite connection with the characters.


    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thanks Lulu :) Happy writing!

  14. As always, you make the difficult attainable. Great job describing why and how to show the emotions and then giving concrete examples. And much appreciation for the links!

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thank you Clancy! I am so pleased you found it helpful!

  15. Marin says:

    Fabulous post, Eliza. So helpful! I sometimes find it challenging to write emotions – I can feel what the character feels, and I know what I want to say, but conveying them can be difficult. Thanks for posting the links to help me get those emotions out.

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Marin, I feel your pain! I will sometimes sit at the computer, feeling everything I want to write, but I just can’t think of the right sequence of words to put down… Try closing your eyes, take a deep breath, maybe write down a few descriptive words. What is your scene? How can you fit these desriptive words into the action/reaction scene? Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Wonderful post, Eliza! You certainly know how to write emotion in your books. Loved those excerpts…my emotions are still affected by some of those. Whew!

    And thanks for sharing those resource links. You are so helpful!

    All the best!

    *waving to Mia* Thanks for having Eliza on your blog.

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thanks Renee! I have to say I am excited you are still affected by some of the emotions in my scenes :) Always good to hear! Glad you found it helpful! Happy writing!

  17. Dalila G. says:

    Morning ladies!

    What an informative post, fabulous job!
    Thank you Eliza for your excerpts, love excerpts! Those excerpts are what hooks me into buying books. :-)

    I know how tough it is to write, I always want to ‘feel’ all the emotions.
    When I read books I need to want the characters to be as believable and realistic as possible. Makes for a better story, to be in the story, like I’m with them.

    Have a lovely day and thanks for sharing!

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thank you Dalila! I’m glad you enjoyed the excerpts :) It totally does make for a more believable and realistic story. Have a wonderful day!

  18. Great post, Eliza! Your excerpts are fabulous. Emotion is so important to a story because it makes the characters. Without it, readers don’t feel a connection to the book.

    Thanks for the post.

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Exactly Angelique! Thanks for the comment :)

  19. Loni Lynne says:

    Great post, Eliza. You are always a great resource for information on our craft!


    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thank you Loni! I’m glad you find my info useful :)

  20. Julie Shumway says:

    Great post, Eliza.

  21. Brenna says:

    Wow Eliza! This is an awesome post! You gave lots of great information and I loved the excerpts!

    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thank you Brenna! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  22. Sarah Hoss says:

    Thanks Eliza and Mia for a wonderful interview.

    The writing world can be so difficult and Eliza always has such an easy way of explaining things. Makes newbies like me so appreciative.


    1. Eliza Knight says:

      Thanks Sarah :) Glad you found it useful!

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