There are several things going on within a story: words, plot, characterization. But the thing that makes it human is the emotion. And the more emotion we can throw into our stories, the more they will resonate with readers.

DiAnn Mills provides a great checklist for helping us along. You might not be able to use all of her techniques within the same scene—or even the same story—but all are good reminders that we are human because we feel, and because we feel we are able to read words on a page and share a character’s joys and pains.

These are tricks to take us from good writing to great writing.

Write with passion!

Clay Stafford

Clay Stafford
Founder Killer Nashville
Publisher / Editorial Director Killer Nashville Magazine


DiAnn Mills
DiAnn Mills

How to Write Killer Emotions

By DiAnn Mills

The first step in writing killer emotions is to understand a character’s unique temperament, wants, needs, flaws, desires, goals, challenges, and backstory. Once you know your character, you can fill your pages with their deepest feelings. According to Tonya Reiman in The Power of Body Language, there are seven universal emotions: surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, happiness, and contempt. Your character needs to experience all seven, and you have to take them there. But how?

Experts state that up to 90% of communication is nonverbal. Character-driven body language allows the writer to show, not tell, what a character is feeling. There are plenty of resources available online offering codified body language for you, but you can do a lot of real-life research by exercising your powers of observation. Watch the people around you carefully, and you’ll find clues about their feelings hidden in what they are physically doing.

Another technique that invites the reader into the experience is the writer’s usage of sensory perception. Emotions surface naturally as the writer describes what the character sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches. The reader feels the character’s reactions and internalizes what is happening, much like children watching a movie. They select the character they want to be in the adventure, and are able to live the entertainment vicariously. Every word.

Symbolism, another literary device, touches the reader with emotion when a tangible item means something different than its physical property. A symbol cleverly inserted into the story—a word or phrase that points to a deeper meaning—provides a subtle way for the reader to understand the character’s internal workings. The weather, a number, rushing water, a quirky personality, the way the stars light up the night, and more.

Color inherently carries symbolic weight, and thus can affect the character and the reader. Here are a few examples:

Red is a passionate color that invokes strong emotions, while blue suggests sadness or serenity. Green symbolizes nature and growth, and purple often represents royalty, wealth, wisdom, and spirituality—and can also symbolize arrogance. Brown feels natural and down-to-earth, while pink feels romantic and feminine. White often signifies purity and innocence, and black usually reminds us of power, evil, death, and mourning. Gray blends the meanings of black and white, and symbolizes life and death in many circumstances. 

Find Deadlock on Amazon.
Find Deadlock on Amazon.

Using emotions also means effective word choice. Diction is important and the sounds of our words usher in feelings. Novels involve conflict, and using hard consonants underscores the harsh sensations of stress and tension in confrontations. In gentler scenes, rely on words that end with “y”: they feel light, even fun—pretty, dainty, lovely, perky. Words with softer consonants are soothing. Adding a long vowel sound to a key moment can slow your reader’s heart rate.

The rhythm of our sentences also creates emotive responses. If a passage seems harsh when you desire to create a calm scene, then it’s time to edit. If your sentences contain a poetic lilt when you intend to show a violent scene, head back to the drawing board.

A bestselling writer purposefully places her character into heart-wrenching moments. Be honest. Be bold. Make the emotions raw. Hold back nothing. If you learn how to weave emotion and symbolism into your writing, you plunge your reader into your story and allow him or her to bond with a character who will never let them go.


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015 president of the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope, & Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.


(To be a part of the Killer Nashville Guest Blog, send a query to contact@killernashville.com. We’d love to hear from you.)

Thanks to Tom WoodEmily Eytchison, and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s blog.

And for more writer resources, visit us at www.KillerNashville.comwww.KillerNashvilleMagazine.com, and www.KillerNashvilleBookCon.com.

And be sure to check out our new book, Killer Nashville Noir: Cold-Blooded, an anthology of original short stories by New York Times bestselling authors and newbies alike.

“Murder, mayhem, and mystery! Every story in KILLER NASHVILLE: COLD-BLOODED is filled with suspense, sizzle and startling twists. I loved it!”

– Lisa Jackson, New York Times Bestselling Author

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