What do unemotional character’s feel?

Forums Fiction Characters What do unemotional character’s feel?

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    Hope Ann

    How do you show emotion in a main character who is outwardly unemotional?

    This question is from Kayla and it so much fun to tackle in writing. Grim characters; characters who seem to not care but actually do…their emotions tend to come off as more powerful. Why? And how do we do this?

    Tagging a few people to get things started.

    , @wolverinerm, @phoenix, @naiya-dyani

    Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.


    You can show it through their internal thoughts and processing and stuff. Just because they aren’t showing emotion outwardly doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling any at all. I guess it’s easier to show if you’re writing first person POV, then you can get right inside their head and talk about what they’re feeling. The way I do it is a combination of vague physical cues (like stomach pains with anxiety, feeling like your heart is racing from anger, ect) and thoughts inside the characters head. Not really sure how you’re supposed to do it but that’s how I tend to write it anyway. Oftentimes I think characters that don’t show emotion have a reason for doing so either in past traumas or because they feel like emotion makes them appear weak, so that’s also good to keep in mind.

    Sarah Inkdragon

    *feels qualified as INTJ vibe intensifies*


    For starters, body language. By outwardly emotional, I’m assuming a lot of that refers to voicing emotions and things like crying/etc? Those are pretty big signals of emotion, but there are more subtle ways to show emotion through basic body language. Characters who don’t voice their emotions but instead hint at them through body language(even in a vague manner) often seem most realistic to me. For example: when have you ever seen someone just opening admit they’re frightened, especially teens/young adults, who aren’t very mature? Or even more stoic people who are older, who don’t voice their emotions? I haven’t seen many. Children and mature adults, perhaps – but in between there lies a vast realm of those unaccounted for.

    Now – how many times have you seen someone act a little neurotic, fidgety, avoiding eye contact, constantly trying to find a job, or even act really bold in the face of something that seems a little risky? Bravado, my friends, is a lovely tool. You’ll never get a teenage boy to admit he’s scared of bridge jumping, but you sure can hint at it with body language. Your “unemotional” character might not show much in terms of body language either, but there’s always little things you can pick up on – for example: does your character stand in a sort of slouched, confident manner, or does he hold himself straight as stick with confidence. Is he confident in an assertive manner, always telling people how and what to do, or does he show his confidence by always rushing eagerly into situations with little thought for planning? The way you frame one emotion like confidence can make a big difference in how people perceive your character.

    Secondly, sincerity when the character does show emotion goes a long way. Likelier than not, the character who shows little emotion will show only his very genuine and very strong emotions. An unemotional, stoic character isn’t going to likely talk back to authority unless he feels very strongly about the matter, and in that case he’s going to come off very “powerful” and typically assertive. A stoic character also isn’t likely to smack someone upside the head should they act stupidly – they’re probably more likely to just glare and then make things difficult in a subtle manner for that person for the next few days. If you’re really going for a stoic character, I wouldn’t make him voice his thoughts very often either – only when it really matters to him personally. Most stoic characters and people seem to have some sort of vendetta that is what matters most to them, and they don’t take time out of their day to think about much else. (The best part of these characters is when they start to un-thaw and think about other people.) So he’s not going to get super involved in things he doesn’t really care about or that aren’t correlated to his goal – so when he does get super involved or fired up about something, you know something is wrong.

    Some characters who are “unemotional” get very quiet and reserved to avoid speaking to other people or having to voice their opinion/feelings on a subject(Mr. Darcy is a good example I think… at least the Mr. Darcy from the newer movies seems so.). They might simply be shy or nervous, or they don’t want anything to do with things that can cause them to voice their own feelings/opinions on things. Others might be quiet, but sort of passive-aggressive like. Overall, I think most of the “power” that is in their emotions comes from the sincerity behind them. Unlike many people, they don’t really voice their opinion/feelings on many things and don’t feel the need to outwardly express their feelings on everything. So when they do, we realize how much it really matters to them. And you also realize which characters are really important to them, likely by who they voice their opinions/feelings to.

    In short – body language and sincerity. I think that’s a good start.

    "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

    - C. S. Lewis



    Thank you for tagging me in this 🙂 Here are some ideas (some of these may have already been mentioned):

    • These characters often show, rather than tell,  how much they care. They could sacrifice themselves. Have them secretly perform an act of kindness or faithfully watch out for someone without saying a word.
    • Microexpressions. Stiffened posture.  Slight pauses after being asked about a certain person/topic. Changes in vocal tone (“fake” laugh, different pitch, forced vocal control, etc.).  Tightening the grip on the steering wheel. Eyes that widen a few centimeters while the rest of the face remains stone-cold. Subtle winces or nervous tics that other characters barely notice. The little tells they give when they think no one’s watching or paying attention. Or maybe BIG tells, such as seeming unemotional when they’re with others but crying or throwing things as soon as everyone leaves the room.
    • Sarcasm, jokes, sighs, & passive-aggression.
    • Have them let their guard down for a moment with a particular character. In this vulnerable scene, they share a bit more of themselves, whether verbally or nonverbally.
    • Physical signs of certain emotions: paleness, quickened breathing, sweaty palms. Accidently dropping something or tripping when a certain topic/person is mentioned.

    I think the reason why outwardly-unemotional characters’ emotions seem more powerful is because of contrast. Their emotional expressions stand out because they’re so rare, and it shows how even the most (seemingly) cold hearts can change.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 1 month ago by Michaela.

    "May it be mercy I show for it is mercy I've been shown." - Written to Speak



    I love this!! I’m probably not the most qualified to answer, since my main characters are the more emotional ones without fail. I do have a pretty important, cold hard side character, so this was honestly kinda helpful 😆

    My big things with him is, he’s the scary quiet one. He doesn’t say much, and he doesn’t raise his voice. So in my high-emotion climax scene, having him yelling is that flash of emotion you don’t expect from him.

    And, what @mgtask said about the vulnerable scene. Those two things really play into his arc tbh. He’s still tough scary Dal, but that’s how you get to see his softer side.

    I ask where he got these crazy ideas anyway
    He just smiles and says, it’s the way that I was raised

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