Tips for Showing Emotions in Your Writing

by Matilda Butler on September 1, 2013

catnav-alchemy-activePost #75 – Memoir and Fiction, Writing Alchemy – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Writing Tips and a Rosie the Riveter Halloween Costume

If you are a regular to this website, then you have grown accustomed to my seemingly far-fetched topics that really do relate to writing. And once again, I promise to not disappoint you — on either point.

I frequently listen to audiobooks and marvel at the way that authors engage me in the emotional states of the major characters. It is usually done in such a subtle way that I’m not even aware of how the author has managed to get to me emotionally — and especially the way that the author shows me the emotions of the protagonist. I often go back to a section — even checking the book out of the library so that I can study relevant passages.

A Memoir Lead to a Popular Halloween Costume

And although I do recommend that you try listening to audio books as a way to get a different perspective on writing, today I’d like to share an unusual example with you.

Kendra has been using a new tool to create a series of videos in anticipation of Halloween. You may know that Kendra and I wrote what became an award-winning collective memoir called Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story, Second Edition. When we started giving book presentations, we wanted to use a Rosie the Riveter red and white polka dot bandana and found that nothing authentic was available. So we designed our own and had some made up.

Rosie the Riveter Bandana and Collar PiThen people in the audience asked us where they could get a bandana like ours and we started selling them. Eventually, we added more products — Rosie the Riveter’s employment badge/collar pin, Rosie’s red and-white polka dot mug, Rosie’s rivets in a cute polka dot bag, even a whole Rosie the Riveter DIY Portrait Kit that includes the bandana, collar pin, a DIY Rosie poster, a World War II ration book and Rosie’s cookbook.

Each Halloween since we started carrying the Rosie the Riveter bandana, we found that our sales always peaked in late October. At first, we couldn’t even figure out why we suddenly had so many more sales beginning in September. In response to our inquiries, our customers sent us emails letting us know how they were using the Rosie products they got from us. Many said they intended to be Rosie the Riveter for Halloween. Some even sent us their photos from their special evening out.

We never did anything to promote going as Rosie the Riveter to office parties, to school events, or to Halloween functions. It just happened on its own.

Until this year.

Kendra and I decided we’d help spread the word that it’s a fun and inexpensive costume to go as Rosie the Riveter. The women who have purchased our Rosie Gear told us that they love showing their empowerment. Besides, they get to be comfortable on Halloween. So Kendra sat down to figure out how to show a series of emotions in cartoon fashion.

Back to Writing and Showing Emotions

Kendra found out, just like every writer finds out, you have to identify emotional states and then determine how to show them. It doesn’t happen on its own. She faced the same problem with a cartoon video as you would if you wanted to write about a person who had the problem of finding a Halloween costume. Once Kendra had the storyline and plot worked out, she realized that with the cartoon format you definitely had to show emotions since she only had a few words she could use.

So we invite you to watch the one-minute video below and see how Kendra used facial expressions, arms, and even shoulders to express a variety of emotional states. Then read the tip below the video.

Memoir Writing Tip

Recall, or go through the short video again. Pay attention to the various ways that Kendra expressed emotions. See if you can identify the individual emotions. List at least three ways that she showed emotions.

Tip: Emotions, especially strong emotions, are evidenced through our bodies. When you write, be sure to find how each major person in your memoir expresses his or her emotions. For example, one person who is happy may get a “silly grin” on her face. Another person may give a nervous giggle even though she isn’t nervous. A third person may become quite talkative when happy while a fourth person may actually “tear up” when feeling the emotion of happiness and a fifth will run his hand across his bald head.

Want to learn more about emotions? Where they are stored in our bodies? How we express them? The vocabulary of emotions? We devote an entire chapter to Emotions in our award-winning book, Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep.

Meanwhile, we wish you a happy Halloween.

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