4 Ways to Write Powerful Emotional Scenes

The barista stared at me a moment then felt the need to explain. “It’s black tea.”

I could see as much.

What I wanted to know was why in the middle of Texas there were tea wrapped in rice paper with Chinese characters scrawled on them. They looked like they had gotten lost en-root some Chinese farmer’s market trip. I could picture him walking down the road in dusty sandals towing one of those big carts behind him filled with produce. A bag of tea falls from his cart and into a nearby rice field.

4 Ways to Write Powerful Emotional Scenes

How had this tea ended up here? Here in this coffee shop where lipstick and airbrushed ladies and men in perfectly pressed slacks laughed and sipped wine and coffee?

I was still standing there dumbly. Staring. Better yet, what am I doing here?

Two worlds were colliding in my head. I blinked and managed to stumble back to my seat. I could feel the barista’s curious eyes on me as I slid behind my computer screen.

The lump and the knot, my surprise companions, were back.

Not now. Not here. I don’t have time to miss China. This is not the sort of place you wanted to lose your composure. 

This is a peak into a snippet of my life from yesterday. Not every day is an emotional one for me. Even the “emotional” days are not always filled with tears or getting bloody knuckles from taking it out on the bags. Those days do happen but are more rare than not.

For me, most days I’m happy. Which is great except when it comes to writing. When I’m trying to create a sense of euphoria or terror how do I do it? Here are some tips that have helped me.


1. Write it as it comes

Don’t wait. I know you think you’ll remember how to draw upon those emotions when the time comes in your writing but you won’t.

I used to be one of the worst offenders for this. I had all these great life experiences and emotions that I thought later would easily surface in my writing. Not so. What I did find was that writing down these “mini scenes” from life and attempting to bottle the emotions present right after, or better yet, during that time, did help.

This technique has proved incredibly helpful. I’ve gone back and read scenes from my life with emotions raging thick that I’d completely forgotten about. Not only would I have lost some brilliant scenes, but also the ability to capture my own emotions in the moment. When the years pass and the memories dim, the sharp adverbs describing your emotions will fade unless you write them down.


2. Organize it

Which brings us to the second point. Organize what you wrote down. Check out this post for more ideas on organizing your writing.

At first it won’t be that big of a deal. As you find yourself getting in a groove and quickly growing, your folder of emotions to draw upon will need some sort of system so as to not waste precious productivity time searching.

For me, I use the notebook word feature where I can have multiple tabs open in one document. Each tab I assign to an emotion, sadness, joy, anger, fear, confusion, betrayal, etc. That way, when I get to a scene in my book that requires a certain emotion and I’m just not feeling it, I can quickly reference my folder. With this system I pull up the emotion I’m looking for, read over some mini scenes and get ideas of powerfully descriptive words or even actions to use.


3. Read it

Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about the importance of reading. I already did that here. What I would encourage you to do is read more nonfiction.

I’m not talking about research. Yes, that’s important and should be done, but this is different. Read self-help or how to books. Everything from books on emotional IQ to books on persuasion. This foundation will help you better understand the range of human emotions. While you may think you’re pretty knowledgeable on the topic a little reading might show you just how much you don’t know.

For instance, I’m currently outlining a corporate thriller that centers around psychology and emotional manipulation. To help me, I bought a book on gender differences in communication at the work place. Sounds boring—I know. Looks boring too; you should see that 80s cover! And yet, it’s fascinating and I’m getting great ideas from it.

Oh and side perk, I’m improving my A game at work from all this reading too. Raises anyone. . . ?


4. Observe

Lastly, observe the emotions of those around you.

I once heard of an American visiting Japan. He was riding the crowded subway when he noticed a man get on with a birthday cake. The subway got more and more crowded with each passing minute until the man was playing a hard core game of defense to keep the bodies from crushing his cake.

A few stops later it happened.

With a sudden jolt of the crowds, the man’s arms gave out. The cake collapsed into his chest and on the surrounding people. The man made no indication he’d noticed. His stoic face didn’t betray the slightest hint of irritation or frustration.

Different cultures, places, families, and even careers can lead to people handling their emotions in different ways. Be an observer of what you see, how different people cope with what they’re feeling and write it down. If you don’t have time to write it down right then, make a one or two word note somewhere then come back to it and write it. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!



Candace signing off after a glorious memorial day that involved no work.



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