Is it possible for a writer to describe realistically a never felt emotion?

For example I have never experienced faith, or being truly in love. I've never physically hurt anyone and have no idea of how someone feels when attacking/maiming/killing someone.

In some cases it is possible to use a somewhat close experience (like building on how I feel when I have no access to cigarettes or coffee for a few days to write about drugs withdrawal) ; but sometimes it's not an option.

For now, my solution is to rely heavily on the "Show, don't tell" rule and describe how a character looks and acts, but not their exact emotions. I don't know if it's enough.

  • AN other approach: You've never felt like how it feels when attacking/maiming/killing someone. But you've felt how it feels to get that caffeine kick. Maybe your character feels like that? But 100 fold more. or 10 fold more. Or, just the same. "I could get a cup of joe or I could get on the job and maim Joe. One of them cost two bucks...." - of course this leads to a certain type of character. Commented Feb 20 at 22:11

3 Answers 3


No writer can experience everything. Most of us haven't died, and yet we write about death all the time. Likewise, when we write about grief, we may draw on our own personal experiences, but oftentimes, we let our imagination take control.

Perhaps you can boil down the specific emotions you want to describe into more general emotions: you may not have ever been angry enough to kill anyone, but there may have been times when your anger caused you to behave in an irrational fashion. Likewise, you may never have had an addiction to drugs, but you have probably felt the desperation of needing something so badly that you obsess about it, that can feel your brain twitching from thought to thought, always back to thing it needs. The physiological details can be added through careful study (although in the instance of drugs, avoid just watching Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream: these films have spawned dozens, if not hundreds, of copycat representations of addiction and they're pretty easy to spot). Do real research into the scenario you want to portray: the more you read, the better.

"Show, don't tell" is a good rule of thumb regardless of how much research or imaginative exploration you do. Readers are very good at filling in the blanks and can empathize with a situation described plainly as much as one portrayed in lush, agonizing detail. This is where your artistry comes into play.


Be a good observer. Observe the people around you closely. Just don't see their actions ,but try to observe the reason or feeling behind them. Try to think, how would you feel if you are in that state of mind. Observing things make you imaginative. We don't need to experience everything to write about it. What we need is the ability to relate other people emotions with our emotions.


From my experience, what seems to help is getting into the mindset of the character you are trying to write. Really think about what you would do in that scenario, and the emotions you would feel if you were your character. If you're character has a mental health condition, research it to get a better understanding. It can be really hard to write about something you've never experienced, so empathy plays a big role as well. You know more about your character and/or setting than anyone else. And sometimes without realizing it, you may find yourself subconsiously drawing on current or previous emotions about something. Try to recognize and train that ability. If you have a character that kills someone, make sure to give a good enough reason, and build up to that moment. Not only will this help you, but it will help the reader as well. (If i'm not explaining well, I apologize.)

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