I have this young character who grows up to be very strong and powerful but while he was young he was still discovering how strong he was.

This incident happened to a friend he's protective of. When he was beating up the people who attacked his friend, he almost killed one of them by breaking his rib cage. I wanted this to be a moment in his story that would later on make him always hold back in a fight. But I don't know what this would feel like.

In general, how do you write an authentic emotional experience for a character if you've never experienced it yourself?

  • 1
    I feel like this question could be improved by focusing it. Is it the emotional part of it you want to write about? Is it the research aspect? Also, what is the #2 about in the title? Jun 28, 2018 at 8:22
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    Hi Dorrien. It looks like you have at least two different accounts. See I accidentally created two accounts; how do I merge them? in the Help center if you'd like to have them merged. I also suggest that you register your account; see Why should I create an account? for some further discussion on this.
    – user
    Jun 28, 2018 at 9:37
  • @ErdrikIronrose OP originally asked this on WorldBuilding by mistake. This is their second attempt at asking.
    – F1Krazy
    Jun 28, 2018 at 9:41
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    This is unclear and difficult to answer in its current format. Can you narrow down specifically what kind of help you're looking for? When you try to write the scene -- what problem do you run into?
    – Standback
    Jun 28, 2018 at 10:47

6 Answers 6


There is a very simple rule here: don't describe emotions; create them. You are creating an experience for the reader. If you describe emotions, you are creating a clinical experience, one that is detached from what is happening. But if people want a clinical experience, they usually turn to non-fiction. They turn to fiction for a visceral experience, a felt experience.

To create an emotional response in a felt experience, you have to set things up so that when the event happens, the reader feels the emotion immediately, just because the event happens, and they know how the characters involved feel as well, based on everything they already know about them, just because the event happens, and not because of any emotion you tell them about at the time.

This is generally done by showing us a previous incident of less consequence which establishes how the character feels and reacts to things so that when the big incident occurs, we know how they must feel because we know how they reacted to a smaller incident in the past, and because we know what their emotions must be in that moment, we feel them too, without having to be told.

You can't whip up an emotional response on the spot. You can't force the reader to feel anything just be force of words. You can't convince the reader that the character feels something just be telling us that they do. You have to use storytelling techniques to ensure that when a particular event happens the reader already knows what the character feels and feels it themselves.

This does not mean that you never describe emotions. We observe the emotions of others all the time without being particularly moved by them ourselves. Sometimes the description of other emotions is incidental to setting up the big emotional moments that are key to the story. But the big emotions have to be set up and triggered, not described.


I feel like this question is very broad. The majority of writing (especially fiction) is about writing things you've never experienced.

I would say the majority of answers will be the same thing: research.

Read books and stories of a similar genre, see how they handle those situations. You may be able to get recommendations for books from people, or just search for similar tag/plot lines. A local library is a good place to start, but the internet has almost everything in eBooks you'd need.

Watch videos that include people being injured, to see how it looks (movies are great for this). Do they look panicked? How can you describe the pain? How do people around them react? Ask yourself questions, even write notes! :)

Consider similar circumstances you have been in, or someone you know has been in, then exaggerate them. You may not be as strong as your character and hurt someone by accident, but you probably have poked someone in the eye or thrown something and accidentally hit someone. How did that effect you? If exaggerated to the point of severe injury, how would it effect you then?

Along the same vein, try asking someone. Ask the strongest person you know if they've ever hurt someone by accident how it made them feel. Ask them how it happened.

Go out and live it! Join a wrestling club and find out what it feels like to get thrown around. Join rugby, or american football, or just watch some matches. Experience and see what strength is, then try describing that.


Here's an exercise: Try writing your defining scene without getting into the characters' heads at all. Make your point of view that of an outside observer. Just show us what the characters do. Focus just on the choreography.

I think of the novels by Kent Haruf, who does this very well. He shows characters treating each other with kindness or meanness without dwelling on their inner lives. We, the readers, are able to understand the emotional depth of these characters just from their actions.

  • I haven’t read Kent Haruf, does his characters not have any backstories at all? Jun 28, 2018 at 16:43
  • It's been a while, but I don't remember any character back stories. The novel I think of is Plainsong, the story of two old gentleman farmers and others from the nearby town. It focuses on present-day events. You get to know the characters through their actions and words. Jun 28, 2018 at 18:02

If you are "not good with emotions" don't try to force them into your writing, they will come out forced.

If your character is "strong and powerful" then it's perfectly fine for him to struggle to show emotion anyway, so play to your strengths and write a character you know in your heart, an MC who struggles with emotion just as you do.

What is important is to SHOW how this event has affected him. For example, you could write a future fight scene where his opponent is a good fighter, he is protecting his face with his fists held high and his left elbow tucked low into his body, but the MC sees an opening, his right elbow is high exposing his ribs. He imagines the punch that would take his opponent down, he hears the crack of that rib cage. And in that second of delay, he takes a punch to face.

It's just an example to illustrate the point, but if you aren't good with emotion, go with a light touch and don't overdo them in your writing. Write what you are good at, which is hopefully a great fight scene, which SHOWS the impact this event has had on your MC.

Good luck!


What emotions? Maybe the reason the "emotions" aren't coming naturally is because you are forcing the wrong ones.

Your hero learned a lesson that will shape his worldview. He saw he has an innate physical advantage over others and has decided to do the noble thing. This is not a "traumatized" emotion, this is maturity. He was never at a disadvantage, never in danger. Nothing is forcing him to change but his own sense of fairness and morality. This is not a character flaw or weakness. This is the noble resolve of a hero. Essentially he is letting go of his ego. He is choosing to be LESS emotional.


One possibility to increase or cause the main character emotional problems would be to have the ending of the fight witnessed by his mother or a teacher (assuming a modern setting).

The young protagonist could be in trouble for reasons that aren't just guilt. For example, his family could have been forced to pay for the healing of the injuries which could have caused them hardship. He could imagine his mother's face or words.

Perhaps the young protagonist's family believes in pacifism, perhaps due to religion. Again, his parents could remember the hurt he caused his parents for fighting at all.

In modern schools it might not matter that he was defending a friend but he could have gotten into trouble for fighting. And the more so because he caused injury to another student. Also, because the other person was injured, the teacher may have believed that the protagonist was the one who started the fight. The protagonist may have been harshly punished.

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