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Use an Emotion Orchestra in Your Story

Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards

“Use an Emotion Orchestra in Your Story” by Joan Y. Edwards

Last week I read an article by Wade Bradford entitled, Warm Up Activity: Emotion Orchestra on About.com: http://plays.about.com/od/actvities/qt/orchestra.htm.

In it Bradford tells about the activity: One person pretends he is the conductor. People stand or sit in a semi-circle  like people do in an orchestra. Rather than a string or percussion section, they will have sections named for different emotions.

I visualize each section with a poster card that names the emotion. Each group decides on a word or phrase that symbolizes the emotion:

Fear  AWWW

Guilt – I’m sorry.

Confused – Huh?

Disgust – Yuch!

Angry – GRRR!

Joy –  Yippee!

Sadness – Teardrops

Love – Hug

When the orchestra leader points to a section, they make the proper sound for their group’s main emotion. The sounds get louder and louder until it’s a crescendo of strength and meaning. Other times it gets soft and low.

Now I’d like for you to put yourself in front of the open pages of your manuscript. You as a writer design the the emotions people feel on the pages in your book. Choose a random chapter for this exercise. Read the chapter. List the first seven emotions shown. Now go to the last chapter and see if there has been a change. Write the emotion(s) the main character feels on the page. Sometimes a character feels more than one emotion on a page. Does it change in the last two chapters of the story? Depending upon the genre, theme, and character’s situation, the emotion will change when the character’s situation and experience change. A character with no changes has no problems, no conflicts, and so, no story.

I enjoyed thinking of my manuscript as an orchestra of emotion. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Do you have to do this exercise? Of course not. However, when you focus on highlighting the changing emotions of your main character, it pulls readers into your story.

I found seven emotions described in the first chapter of my Immigrant Heart manuscript: excitement, joy, surprise, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. 

I’d like to hear what helps you describe emotions. Leave a comment before midnight Thursday, January 16, 2014 and I’ll put your name in a hat for a free First Page and Pitch critique. I’ll announce the winner on Friday morning, January 17, 2014.

Other posts I wrote about emotions. I hope you’ll read one.

  1. Put Universal Conflict, Theme, and Emotions in Your Story
  2. Pull Readers in – Show Believable Emotions in Your Writing
  3. Do You and Your Characters Follow the Crowd’s Emotions?
  4. Make Your Character’s Actions Show Emotions

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright  © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards


9 Responses

  1. What a great way to frame this concept – emotional orchestra!


    • Dear Widdershins,
      I wish I thought of the idea. It’s an awesome concept to help us remember to fill our stories with high emotional content that makes its readers sing or play an instrument! LOL

      Enjoy your day!
      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards


  2. Hi Joan,
    Emotional Orchestra provides great background music for the author while writing. I’ll do my best to tune in.

    What helps me with showing emotions in my writing? I’m not sure. You have me thinking. Off the top of my head this idea came to me. We often ask someone we greet, “How are you doing?” What if we, as authors, ask our story characters in each scene, “How are you feeling right now?” Keep a check on whether the written words and the character’s emotional state match. Check with the character on the intensity of his mood too. On a scale from 1-10, how angry are you? ETC.


    • Dear Linda,
      Thanks for writing. You’re right an Emotional Orchestra provides great background music for the author while writing.

      I like your idea of asking a character how they are feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. Nurses and doctors ask patients how is your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. One being least. Ten being extremely great. Good idea to use this same approach with our characters to make sure we show them with that intensity of an emotion. Thanks for sharing your idea with us.

      Celebrate you
      Never Give Up


  3. Another winning post. What a great way to think about character and your characters in your story. I like Linda’s suggestion also: ask your main character, “How are you feeling right now? and rating them on a scale of 1 to 10.”


    • Dear Sandra,
      Thanks for writing. I appreciate your compliment about this being “another winning post.”

      I’m glad you like Linda’s idea about asking the main character “How are you feeling right now on a scale of 1 to 10?”

      Celebrate you and your many writing skills


  4. There were three people who left comments:
    Widdershins, Linda Andersen, and Sandra Warren.
    I decided to make you all three winners. It was my birthday! I need to celebrate more. What better way to celebrate than by reading great literature written by friends.

    Send me 250 words of a manuscript to the email address in the left-hand column. I’ll do my best to give you three blue ribbon comments and give you suggestions for improving it.

    I’ll put a separate post announcing this. You can respond to it.

    Sincerely, Joan Y. Edwards


    • Thank you!!! I can do that and I will! I’m so glad to know that you give gifts on your birthday! Lucky me!


      • Dear Linda,
        You are welcome. I love to give gifts, especially on my birthday.


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