Emotion is the key to any good fiction story, whether it is a romance, women’s fiction, suspense or even a blood and guts murder mystery. Non-verbal emotion cannot be told, it must be shown. Keeping this in mind as the words are molded is important as non-verbal emotion is hard to write.
Using the Point of View character’s thoughts to help express the emotion felt at a particular time is the easiest way to alert the reader. By giving him/her clear, precise thoughts, or alternatively ones that are irrational and racy, we are already widening the empathy of the reader. Go deeper and we might find some hint of a deep and dark secret, a hope, dream or total despair. Usually these deep emotions are not displayed physically for all to see. But as a writer we can burrow into the thoughts of our POV character and give hints and suggestions that will reveal his character. Care needs to be taken to ensure those thoughts do continue to move the plot forward, are relevant to that particular scene and are not revealed all at once. Drop only what information is needed for right now, the character’s thoughts can return to the same subject later to expose a little more of who they are and what they believe/want/need. Thoughts used in variance of words spoken can be very powerful. eg, a family huddles together in their home in a caravan park in the path of a force 5 tornedo – the father might be telling his children they’re all going to be fine, they’re safe here. But in reality his thoughts could convey his horror and certainty of the disaster about to occur. We’ve been given an insight into his character, his love for his family, his helplessness, all in a few words. Beware though, too much internal dialogue can bog the reader down.
Visceral responses to emotion are also very powerful. They are the body’s instinctive reactions, eg. change of breathing, sweating, goosebumps etc, things we have no control over. We have all felt these types of response and a reader will be quick to recognise them. Extreme care should be used when writing such responses, though. Too much can make a story sound melodramatic. And there are so many cliched phrases used in association with visceral responses eg shivers ran down her spine, the hair on her arms stood on end, that a story could appear stale and hackneyed. I have found it best to keep most visceral responses for the more dramatic scenes, then they have more punch. There is a fine line between not enough and too much emotion. Gripping visceral response is wasted in a scene when that scene’s primary purpose is to move the plot forward. Keep these instinctive emotional responses to important scenes.
Most scenes in a book are a mix of narrative, dialogue, thoughts and body language/movements. To effectively convey emotion it is best to try to use all these methods within your story. Some scenes will lend more to using only one or two of these options, but don’t neglect to consider what else might be available to you as you write that scene. Using a mix of verbal and non-verbal language will deepen the empathy of your reader and therefore make a more pleasing story to read.