Naming emotion

This is a trick I learned from both Colleen Coble and the book, Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias.

Instead of naming an emotion, show the character under the strain of the emotion.

Instead of writing, “Anger burned through her,” show the anger burning through her, without writing the word “anger.”

A volcano exploded in the pit of her stomach, spewing gases up to sear her nose and make her eyes sting.

She could barely breathe through her taut throat. Her hands shook with the strength it took to hold them back from slapping him.

The strength of the imagery and the power of the emotional moment is heightened if you can show the emotion rather than naming it.

When writing the rough draft, don’t think about stuff like naming the emotion or not. Just get the scene down. I even write notes to myself in brackets so that I can plow through without stopping to enhance my language or fix my typos.

However, when you’re revising, go through each scene and look for places you might name the emotion:

Sadness overwhelmed her.

His terror shook through his frame.

Curiosity struck her.


She sank to her knees like a drowning victim being pulled to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

At first he thought an earthquake had hit, until he realized it was his body quaking. His stomach coiled and twisted like a Gordian Knot.

Now why would he be sneaking into the kitchen at this late hour? It wouldn’t be nosy to check up on him, right?

You’ll find that if you can replace the word of the emotion with a description of the character experiencing the emotion, your prose will really leap off the page.


  1. Hi Camy,

    Something as simple as this can make such a big difference in your writing. Thanks for all the great tips you share

    Janelle Ashley

  2. Thanks, Janelle! I'm glad this was helpful to you!


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