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10.12.2012 15:01    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Elements  Fiction Writing  Writing  Writing Craft      Tags: h. thomas milhorn  emotions  genre  fiction  guide  craft  charts  

Emotions (From Chapter 13 of  Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide to the Craft by H.T. Milhorn)


There are numerous emotions. Ann Hood in her book, Creating Emotions (1977), describes the various emotions and gives both good and bad examples of how to write about them. The following table describes 34 of the more common emotions.


A feeling of strong displeasure in response to an injury or assumed injury. Related terms are:
  1. Annoyance, which is a feeling of irritation, milder or more fleeting than anger.
  2. Resentment, which is subdued anger caused by a sense of unfair treatment and a powerlessness to remedy it.
  3. Indignation, which is anger based on a condemnation of something considered wrong or unfair.
  4. Fury, which is an intense form of anger that suggests lack of control and potential to do violence.
  5. Rage, which is violent anger, more intense than fury.
  6. Wrath, which is a term for strong anger, often with overtones of a desire for revenge.
Worry in the extreme, often about something that is going to happen, either real or imagined. Manifested physiologically as increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, weakness, and stomach or intestinal discomfort. It can be acute or chronic. Panic attacks may sometimes be a part of anxiety symptoms. A panic attack is a period of intense fear, typically with an abrupt onset and usually lasting no more than 30 minutes. Symptoms include trembling, shortness of breath and sensations of choking or smothering. Panic attacks appear to be unprovoked, and are often disabling. Most sufferers report a fear of dying, going crazy, or losing control of their emotions or behavior. They experience a strong urge to flee the place where the attack begins, and when associated with chest pain or shortness of breath they often seek aid from a hospital emergency room.
Impassivity, disinterest, indifference, unconcern, lack of feeling. A non-emotion. It is not cruelty or boredom.
The finest and biggest battleHighest point of tensionDecides overall winner and loserDemonstrates internal change.
Climax is over and story goal is answeredWinners and losers are knownLoose ends are wrapped upCharacters have gained new insights that reflect their growthTheme is reinforcedSymbolic event.
Everything is right with the world. The birds sing, the sun shines, a gentle breeze blows, the dog snoozes in your lap, your wife loves you. You can look at the past, present, and future with a feeling of satisfaction.
Desire to learn something new. Not nosy or snoopy, which is curiosity gone bad. Part of curiosity is discovery. A child learns by asking questions. Older children and adults learn by reading the newspaper, cruising the Internet, or reading a book.
A passion or craving for something. Can be sexual or nonsexual (desire for a woman or for a better life). Not a need to have what another has. That is envy or jealousy. A boy may desire a gun, a girl a Barbie doll.
Utter loss of hope, sense of futility or defeat. Not self-pity. Seen best when compared with a time of happiness.
Sense of electricity crackling through one’s body. A thrill, kick, bang, rush, or charge.
Deep concern for one’s safety, real or imagined. Go to bed with lights on. Cover head with blanket. Afraid to close eyes. Grip tightens or holds even tighter.Feeling of comfort, warmness, affection, attachment, or devotion. His favorite pair of old jeans. Her favorite aunt. Should not be confused with love.
Feeling of comfort, warmness, affection, attachment, or devotion. His favorite pair of old jeans. Her favorite aunt. Should not be confused with love.
Act of coming to grips with the fact that we are like other people: “I could have made the same mistake.” Usually a sign of strength. Forgiveness shouldn’t come too easily. It should be a struggle. What causes the character to forgive?
Thankfulness. Grateful to someone for something (an apple pie, a hug, a kind word).
Feeling we get when we lose something or someone we care deeply about. It can be very emotional (throws self on coffin) or repressed (sits stoically in chair).
Feeling of responsibility for something bad that happened (death of child, car wreck that injured best friend). Character feels remorse. Associated with shame for the act. Tends to keep feelings to self. May eventually try to unburden self by telling someone.
State of well being and contentment. Makes character jump, squeal, shout, skip, hum a tune, or cry. Shown best if character has experienced sadness or despair.
A feeling of intense dislike, anger, hostility, or animosity toward someone. Usually associated with a desire to do harm or wish harm to someone.
To desire with expectation of fulfillment. To long for with expectation of obtaining. Not necessarily based on logic (I hope I get the raise. I hope she feels the same toward me as I do her.).
Feeling antagonistic. Sees someone or something as the enemy (If that SOB crosses me again he’ll pay for it).
Feeling of annoyance or exasperation. Irritations frustrate you, disturb you, and make you uncomfortable (Someone reading over your shoulder, talking behind you in a movie, running out of hot water in the middle of a shower). A slow build up of irritation can lead to anger.
Wanting something that someone else has. More than envy. May involve some hostility. Can consume us and make us do irrational things that destroy friendships and ruin loving relationships. Secretive (People are hesitant to admit they want their friend’s job, wife, house, car, and so forth).
Not the same as being alone. Many people are happy reading, writing, watching TV, and so forth all by themselves. Loneliness is being alone and not liking it. Longing for companionship. Some people can be lonely in a crowd if they don’t know the other individuals or if they are not skilled in social interaction. Loneliness especially occurs on birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries.
Persistent desire or yearning that cannot be fulfilled. Has inherent in it a sadness. We long for love, for a happier time, or for people who are far away. It is a little like desire except with desire we often can obtain the object of our desire. A husband may long for a time when he and his wife were in love, which is not obtainable.
Parent-child. Mixture of other emotions (tenderness, happiness, jealousy, confusion, disappointment). Parents worry about their children, they feel pained by them, and they experience happiness by the things they do. Romantic. A mixture of deep and often conflicting emotions (hope, sorrow, desire, lust, hate, fear). Symptoms may be feeling twittery, not eating, lying awake, and moping in corners. Being away from the one we love can be painful. Sound of loved one’s voice can make one’s heart pound.
Passion consumes us. It takes over. It is all encompassing, reckless, and wonderful. Makes us feel like nothing exists but the object of our passion. Everyone remembers the passion of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr lying on the beach entwined in each other and kissing while a wave washes over them in From Here to Eternity.
Accepting what you were born with, or given, or came across in life, although you were initially in denial or unwilling to accept it. It does not carry with it regret or sadness. It is often at the end of a process (Wife in coma, never to wake up. Her husband grapples with despair, then hope, and then anger on his way to resignation of her state.
Restlessness is kinetic; that is, it has motion with it (tapping foot, drumming fingers, getting up and sitting down and repeating the process). At its root is discontentment, waiting or hoping for something to happen.
Directed at those who have hurt us, betrayed us, or done us wrong (actual or perceived). Spend hours thinking about and planning how to get even. Next step is an action.
Not about death or other major loss. Deeper than mere unhappiness from missing a telephone call or burning dinner. May not have an identifiable cause.
Comes from guilt, unworthiness, or disgrace. Disappointed in ourselves or the lives we are leading (taking government handout, having affair with sister-in-law). Based on a comparison of our circumstances with our concept of what our circumstances should be. Do not want other people to find out so they won’t think as low of us as we already do.
Emotion we feel when we are caught unaware (gun suddenly in back, mouse skittering across floor, dear John letter, body hanging in our closet).
Distrust without proof or evidence (wife doesn’t come home until late at night, so she must be having an affair).
Sharing the feelings of another. If one woman is ashamed of her body (thin shoulders and heavy bottom, another person shares and identifies with her feelings (“Who among us is perfect?”).
A gentle emotion (the way a mother handles her newborn child or the way a long-married couple hold hands as they walk from their car to the movie theater).
Much less than fear. A nagging feeling in one’s gut that something may be wrong (midnight and your 17-year-old daughter is an hour late getting home. You hope she’s okay, but you don’t start calling hospitals).



  1. Hood, Ann, Creating Character Emotions, Story Press, Cincinnati, 1997.
  2. Noble, William, Conflict, Action & Suspense, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, 1994.
  3. Dictionary.com, http://dictionary.reference.com/.
  4. Duncan, Apryl, Emotional rollercoaster: Writing suspicion, WritersBreak.com, http://www.writersbreak.com/Fiction/articles/article_fiction_suspicion_1.htm.
  5. Duncan, Apryl, Emotional rollercoaster: Writing Anger, WritersBreak.com, http://www.writersbreak.com/Fiction/articles/article_fiction_anger_1.htm.
  6. Duncan, Apryl, Emotional rollercoaster: Writing Love, WritersBreak.com, http://www.writersbreak.com/Fiction/articles/article_fiction_love_1.htm.
  7. MedTerms Medical Dictionary, MedicineNet.com, http://www.medterms.com/script/main/hp.asp.
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