Journaling to Become a Better Writer III – Getting a Grip on Your Emotions

Hey, guys! It’s week three of the Indie Plot Twist clinic, Journaling to Become a Better Writer. If you missed the first two lessons, here’s where you can read about Recognizing a Story Worth Telling and Honing Your Observation Skills.

This week we’re talking about one of the most important elements of any novel, conveying your character’s emotions. Once again, journaling is a great way to practice this skill. 

crying statueHow to Do It Wrong

Beginning writers often struggle to help their readers get in touch with their character’s emotions. Sometimes we make the assumption that anybody would know how the circumstances we’re describing would feel.

Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it’s not. Either way, if we fail to let our characters express their emotions, the characters come off as unfeeling and unhuman. When that happens, the reader is unable to bond with the character and quickly ceases to care about the character and his problems.

Fortunately, keeping a journal can help in this area, too.


By getting you comfortable with conveying your emotions.

Breaking Things Down

In the first lesson, I talked about how to recognize a story-worthy life event. One of the criteria was that the event had an emotional toll on you. In other words, you felt one way or another about what happened. This lesson is all about how to write about how you felt.

For the scientists and mathematicians amongst us, we’re going to break the emotional process down. (Scary, huh?) Specifically, we’re going to break down how to write about your feelings. Because, believe it or not, the ability to express our feelings in writing doesn’t always come naturally. It’s an art. And it can be learned and improved upon.

So here’s the break-down on analyzing the emotional process:

  1. What happened?
  2. How did it make you feel?
  3. Why?

Let’s go into a bit more detail.

What happened? Okay, never mind. This part is pretty self-explanatory.

How did it make you feel? Try putting a word to it. Angry, sad, frustrated, elated. When you actually write your journal entry (and especially when you write your novel), chances are you won’t actually use that word. You’ll use details to show, not tell. But naming the emotion can help you focus your awareness of how you felt.

Why? Why did the event make you feel that way? This is your journal. Elaborate. Explore your emotions. On one level, we’re using our journal to practice writing our emotions. But on another level, we’re also psychoanalyzing ourselves. Don’t be afraid to dig deep. No one’s ever going to read this but you. My personal position is that if you can’t delve into your own deepest feelings, you’re not likely to get far delving into those of your characters.

Elaborate, Please

An SUV sat in the parking lot. The engine idled, the only sound on the abandoned street. Clouds of exhaust curled along the ground. A big man stepped out of the passenger side door. With the headlights in my eyes, I couldn’t make out his face. By the faint cab light, I registered another big guy sitting behind the steering wheel.

Two of them. One of me.

“You ready?”

Like, no? I contemplated making a run for it. Locking myself in my apartment. Counting on my dog to bark and growl at the door with her hackles up and her teeth glistening with drool.

So, if you had to pick a word to describe how I felt in the middle of that situation, what would you say? Scared? Yep. Paranoid, actually. My mind was running away with me. Don’t worry. Nothing happened.

But here’s the lesson: Don’t assume your reader automatically knows how you felt. Take the time to describe it–remembering to show, not tell. In fiction, if you don’t take the time to describe your character’s emotions, you actually rob your reader of half your story. They don’t just want to know what happened; they want to know how the character reacted.

The first paragraph in my above example uses details to set the scene, and the details I chose support the theme of “scary.” The second paragraph highlights why I found it so frightening. The last paragraph describes my reaction: I felt like running away and counting on my dog to protect me.

At no time do I say, “I was scared.” But I think you get the gist.

If you’re still trying to get the hang of the whole “show don’t tell” thing, don’t sweat it. When you’re writing your journal, go ahead and write, “I was scared,” or whatever. The important thing is to be honest with yourself about your feelings and to express them on paper. Finesse can come later.


However you end up writing your emotions, remember the three elements you should put on paper in some form or another:

  1. What happened?
  2. How did it make you feel?
  3. Why?

Learning to explore your own emotions can free you up to delve deeper into those of your imaginary characters. It all counts as practice.

Homework Assignment

I think you can already guess what’s coming.

  • Think back on an event that gave you a strong emotional reaction. Ask yourself what happened, how it made you feel, and why you felt that way. Now go write a journal entry about it.

As always, homework assignments are purely optional. And again, due to the personal nature of these assignments, no one is required to elaborate in the comments. But if you have any questions or thoughts you do want to share, please feel free! Or if you want any help privately, I welcome you to send me an email.

Next time, we’ll be talking about how keeping a journal can help you develop your author’s voice. That’s coming up on Wednesday the 23rd. If you haven’t done so already, you’re welcome to subscribe to the blog, so you won’t miss out on class.

And don’t forget–Carrie has two more lessons this month on time management techniques for writers. Her classes are running on Saturdays. Drop in and enjoy!

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Clinics in This Series:

Check out the Journaling Book!

Journaling to Become a Better Writer by Danielle Hanna

If you like this blog post series, you might like the book, too. What do your novel-in-progress and your journal have in common? Maybe more than you think. Your life, after all, is a story. The tools you need to take your craft to the next level may be hiding right under your nose.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Blio | Smashwords





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