The Emotionally Engaging Character Post 4: An Exercise in Being Aware of Your Own Emotions

I don’t know how well I can adequately explain the technique, but the idea is to become your characters.  When you’re in their point of view, you let them tell their story through you.  It doesn’t matter if you agree with them or if you would do the same thing they want to do.  This is their story, and they are the ones in control.  I think what it all boils down to is being able embrace the fact that your characters might be very different from you.

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As I was debating how to do this post, I thought maybe it’d be good to begin with homework.  Now, I want this to be fun, so you get to pick the movies, books, and/or songs.

Here’s what I’d like you to do.

Pick 2-3 of your favorite movies and/or books.  If you want, you can focus in on key scene from the movies/books. 

While you’re watching or reading, make notes of what the triggers are and how you react to them.  A trigger is any event that takes you from apathy and makes you feel something. Then write what emotions you’re feel because of the event.  Include physical reactions you experience.  Often, the physical reactions will clue you in to the emotions that go along with it.  Human beings are complex.  What we think affects our emotions which, in turn, leads to a physical reaction.

For example, one of my favorite scenes of all time is from the movie Cars.  It’s during the final race, and The King is bumped off the track.  Lightning McQueen gives up the trophy in order to help him to the finish line.  I found it You Tube and will post it here in case you haven’t seen it.

(This clip is 1 minute and 42 seconds.)

The trigger is The King being bumped off the track.  Lightning McQueen reacts by going back for him.  Why would he do that?  What emotions might he be feeling in order to do that?  This is the emotion we’re looking at, and your answer might be different from mine, which is okay.  I’m guessing the emotion you feel while watching this will vary depending on the genre you prefer to write.

At the moment of the trigger event (The King being bumped off), I experienced a moment of shock as in “Did that really just happen?” Then I felt heartbroken when McQueen stopped.  Then I teared up because I was deeply touched by McQueen’s compassion when he went back for The King.  Then I smiled as the two went through the finished line.  Then I laughed when McQueen said, “It’s just an empty cup.”

So you can experience a wide range of emotions from a single trigger event. The key is “why” you feel this way and how that feeling affects you physically.  You’ll be wanting to tap into these things while you’re in your character’s point of view.

Sit down and listen to a variety of songs.

I don’t think the number of songs is important.  What matters is that you pick ones that cover a wide range of emotions.  Pick songs that cover sorrow (usually soft and slow, can make you cry), anger (usually edgy), calm/relaxed (again slow but without the depressing tone that goes with sorrow), love (usually soft and light), passion (usually has a sensual beat), happy (usually upbeat and light), and funny (also upbeat and light).  If there are other emotions you can pick out in the songs you like, add them to this list.

The idea here is to close your eyes and listen to each song, but do them one at a time.  After listening to the one song, play it again, and this time make notes on how you are reacting to the song (emotionally and physically).  This is similar to the exercise above where I gave the example from the movie Cars.

Do this for each song, and take your time.  I think there’s something in music that has the ability to tap deeper into our emotions than other mediums.  You’re hearing music, the lyrics (which is a story), and you’re forced to create an image of the song in your mind.   Best of all, songs are short in nature, and this exercise should go fairly fast.  This allows you to cover a wide range of emotions quickly.  If you need to take a break between songs, though, go ahead.  Sometimes it can take a while to get out of funk if a song seriously depresses you.

If anyone has trouble coming up with some songs to express a certain mood, let me know and I’ll share a link from You Tube.


If anyone would like to share something from the notes they took, I’d love to hear what you came up with.   As fiction writers, our goal is to create characters that feel deeply, and the best way to do that is to be open to experiencing all of our own emotions.




About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to other genres, but her first love is historical romance. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and a couple of children. To find out more about her books, go to
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4 Responses to The Emotionally Engaging Character Post 4: An Exercise in Being Aware of Your Own Emotions

  1. As I read this, I was listening to It’s Been A While by Staind. This is a song I have often listen to when I am trying to channel regret or love lost. It contains one of my all time favorite lyrics, “it’s been a while since I’ve seen the way the candles light your face, and it’s been a while but I still remember just the way you taste.” There’s passion in that that.

    Ever since high school, oh so long ago, I’ve used music to compliment or even change my mood. If you need help with any suggestions, let me know.

    • I’m going to check out that song. I’m not familiar with it, and now my curiosity is piqued.

      I like to do the same thing with music. When I feel bummed out, I’ll listen to something upbeat to get out of my funk.

      I was struggling to figure out a good song that might inspire the emotion of fear. Do you have any ideas? My mind is blank on that one.

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