Color Me Angry – how to show emotions in your writing

by | Aug 4, 2010 | Christian authors | 8 comments

 As writers we’re constantly told to ‘show’ not ‘tell’, but how do we do that? How do we make ink on while paper breath emotion with such clarity the reader can feel it? Experience it?

Well, let’s start with the basic emotions. Anger being one of the top ones on the list.

One of the best ways to ‘show’ anger is through dialogue. Of course, in this example from Francine Rivers, she shows anger with body language too.

Half an hour later, Mara stormed back. ”Look at this!” She held her hands for him to see her blackened palms and fingers. “I’ve used soap. I’ve used grease. I’ve even rubbed with sand. How do you get this stuff off?”

“It’s the dye from the hulls.”

“You mean they’re going to stay like this?”

“For a  couple of weeks.”

Her blue eyes narrowed. “Did you know this would happen?”

He smiled slightly and pitched hay into a stall.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Michael leaned on the pitchfork. “You didn’t ask.” Her stained hands balled into fists and her face filled with angry color. She didn’t look indifferent or aloof anymore. He added fuel to the fire already blazing. “The nuts still have to be peeled and dried before we can sack them again. Then you and I’ll have all winter long to crack ‘em.”

He saw heat coming into her face; she was ready to explode. “You did this on purpose!”

His own temper was just beneath the surface, so he held his silence.

“How am I supposed to go back now with my hands looking like this?” she could just hear the Duchess laughing at her dung-colored hands. She could just imagine the remarks.

Michael’s mouth curved wryly. “You know, Mara, if you were really that set on going back to Pari-a-Dice, you’d have been on your way weeks ago.”

Can’t you just feel the heat in the moment? Francine doesn’t even need to use words like ‘angry color’ – we already get the idea from the dialogue. Redeeming Love is a fabulous book, btw, if you’ve never read it. A retelling of the Gomer and Hosea story.

So… let’s try another one for tomorrow. Maybe two. Do you have trouble with this writing rule too?


  1. Susan Mason

    Boy do I ever have trouble with this rule, Pepper! Luckily my critique partner is quite good at picking out my slips!

    Great example from a great book. I finally read it a couple of months ago. Talk about a powerful story.


    • Pepper

      I’m right there with you. It’s so much ‘easier’ just to tell people what’s going on. LOL>
      One thing I’ve realized is that I write the same kind of reactions for different characters, so I repeat emotional ‘show’ moments that seemed to work. I need to find a new way to describe the same emotions instead of always using ‘clenched teeth”, ‘chin up’, ‘eyes narrowed’ – ya know? And that’s tough.

  2. Julia

    Great topic for today. One of the characters in my WIP physically abuses his wife…I’m struggling with showing the other side of his character. I don’t want him to become one-dimensional. Anyone have good tips for me? My husband suggested I write up several scenes from his perspective, even if I don’t use them in my novel.

    • Pepper

      You’re husband has some great advice. I’d also place him in a scene where he has to show compassion or care for something, maybe even his wife. How would he respond if she grew very sick? You may not use it in your novel, but it would help with understanding how he’d respond in different situations.
      Sometimes, I’ll write a journal from the characters pov (first person), just to get inside their heads. I don’t use the journal in my novels, but it helps me to know my characters better.
      Another thing I’d like to know as a reader is – what does he feel after he’s abused his wife? How does he respond? AND are you wanting to redeem him?

  3. Julia

    Pepper, Thanks. That was helpful feedback. Gave me some food for thought and I love your idea about the character journal. I’m definitely going to do that.

    He is actually not an alcoholic, but he is a very stressed out member of a cult that demands much of him…so I think much of the abuse is out of stress as much as anger. As for redemption…yes, but not in this novel 🙂

  4. Regina

    Loved your example! And I love using almost straight dialogue for showing emotion. Honestly, even without the descriptions, you would STILL know that she was blazing mad! Showing, not telling, is hard for me, too. But I sure notice it when I READ it. It’s like the author has suddenly taken a shortcut, and makes you really appreciate all the attention we pay to this common problem!

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