Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings Part I

You feel. Your character feels. Your reader feels. We all feel. As that old song says: Feelings, nothing more than feelings.

If, as a novelist, you forget about your character having feelings, you’re doomed.

Events Cannot Stand Alone

What is primarily communicated in a story? Feelings. A story is never solely about what happens. It’s not solely about events. It’s not just the facts.

Every event in your story matters in relationship with how significant it is to a particular individual – your character. Events cannot stand alone no matter how exciting you believe those events to be. The events must be lived through a character who reacts to them.

It is your job as the author – as the novelist – to engineer the events and facts so as to evoke a certain emotion (feeling) on the part of your character.

Facts in a Different Light

Facts exist outside of emotions. Emotions interpret those facts.  The fact is, it rained last Be A Novelistnight. The fact creates little or no feelings. However, place the fact in a different light and see how it changes.

  • After Martha’s baby girl died, it rained the day of the funeral.
  • Nearly every evening, Sonja and her lover took strolls together in the soft Seattle rains before he shipped out overseas.
  • Parker Clemson’s soybean fields were dusty and bone dry – soaking rains had been few and far between.

As novelist and writing instructor, Dwight Swain, used to say, “…a story is never really about anything. Always it concerns, instead, someone’s reactions to what happens.”

How your reader feels about rain will become immaterial. You the author will create a character so vivid, only that character’s reaction to rain matters to the reader.

Scream at a Mouse?

Be A NovelistTake another situation. Imagine a room full of people and a mouse skitters across the floor. While one person is screaming and running, another attempts to catch the mouse with bare hands.

Is that person screaming at a mouse? Or at his or her own feelings in reaction to the mouse? Evidently, it’s due to feelings. If it were only the mouse, everyone would react in the same manner.

Now you may be saying, “Okay, Norma Jean – all of this is so obvious. Where are you going with all this talk about feelings?”

I’m hammering on the obvious because I’ve seen way too many dead stories where feelings (emotions) are either thin or non-existent.  The importance of feelings in a novel cannot be over emphasized.

Who to Care About?

Your reader has agreeably entered into your story world. How will that reader know who to root for? Who to empathize with? Who to share emotions with? Who to care about? Because if reader does not care, reader will not read.  Simple.

It is your job to create a character so vivid that the reader keeps turning pages to find out what will happen to that character. Such an experience comes when you know your character inside and out, upside down and backward.

Once that happens, you then engineer events in the plot to trigger the needed emotions in your character to move that portion of the plot forward. It’s part of the art of plotting.

In Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings Part II, we’ll look more closely at the emotions that dwell within the novelist and how that plays a part in plotting.


Be A NovelistFor a further, deeper study on feeling and emotions, the Be A Novelist Writer’s Workshop #15 will be a great help.  This workshop demonstrates how you can feel what your characters feel – even if it is opposite of what you feel personally.  This is a skill every serious fiction writer must achieve in order to make the story (and the characters) believable. Check it out here.



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