Imagine a world without emotions… Welcome to Vulcan. The Vulcans like Spok repress their emotions so they don’t impede critical thinking. Now imagine your artificial world without emotions… No sadness, no joy, no love, not even fear. Your characters would be stoic and come across as flat and boring.
Emotions enable you to write rich, layered characters that allow your reader to engage them and ‘feel’ for them through a degree of realness. Your audience will empathize: cheer, jeer, fall in love, and cry. When character emotions are used to express reality, your story goes beyond the facade of a story and the characters live as if they breathe on your pages. In fact, you will fool your reader into a sense of comfort where your story becomes real and they will forget that they are reading a book.
To understand how to do this, you must first open up to your own feelings and understand them. Note what makes you cry, what delights you, what you fear. It may be beneficial to keep an ‘Emotion Journal’ where you document what the trigger was, how long the feeling lasted, and what your reaction to it was. Since emotional states are relatively short periods of arousal and desire to act, stay in tune with yourself.
Bring that level of realism to your characters and work from the inner workings of your character’s thoughts so the reader understands why a smile, or frown takes place. Once submerged into your character’s thoughts, emotions will bring unseen motivation that your readers equate with reality.
You must think situationally: Trigger –> Instinctive Reaction —> Desired Reaction –> Resultant Reaction. For example, if your boss berates you, you may repress the urge to yell, you may ignore this, or you may let loose and let your boss have it. A lot will depend on your upbringing in life. If screaming, threatening parents raised you, you may feel fear if you were belted, anger if you yelled back, etc.
To get you started on your voyage of emotions, here is a list of some fairly complex emotions to incorporate into your characters as reactions to various situations they may find themselves in.