How Emotional Depth Touches the Human Heart in Stories

Grabbing your readers and pulling them into your story-world is a bit like trying to lure a cat into a bathtub and we all know how that usually ends. When I initially submitted my work to publishers, I struggled with creating this depth. Fortunately, my agent at the time offered helpful advice. I realized that my story needed more emotional resonance, that secret sauce that makes people crack the book open in the middle of the night, just to sneak in another chapter. It’s all about making your readers feel something real, something deep, making them care so much about your characters that they just gotta know what happens next.

One of the most compelling and hard to write scenes for me was the dark moment between my hero and heroine in The Heartbreak Cowboy.

He stared at her for what seemed like hours. “Eleanor.” His voice rattled with emotion as he stepped forwards to hold her chin. “I am sorry that you had such a shitty childhood. I’m sorry Rex was a son of a bitch to you. I’m sorry you had to watch your mother weep for a man you think didn’t love her. I’m sorry your dad walked out on you.” He let his hand drop. “But most of all, I’m sorry you don’t know love when it’s holding you.”

Emotional depth doesn’t mean having overly emotional characters; it means giving them complex emotions that respond realistically to their experiences and situations.

As I’ve said before, understanding your characters’ past is crucial. It shapes their present and future and it guides their every emotion.  For instance, a hero or heroine with a troubled past may react with fear or anger, their trust shattered by past betrayals. This creates intricate webs of relationships which is bad for the character but exciting and helpful for the author. These webs can be filled with love and heartbreak, as your characters struggle to let others in. Don’t be afraid to add these layers of complexity to your characters’ emotions – it’s what makes them human, what makes them real and it’s what helps to makes a story unforgettable.

Think about your characters’ deepest desires and what pushes them forward (or holds them back). What is their driving force? What sends them running for the hills or hiding in the confinements of a life they aren’t satisfied with? Is it love, or the pursuit of something greater? These motivations can dictate their emotional responses. For instance, a character fueled by the desire for true love may experience heartbreak when faced with obstacles, or unbridled happiness when they finally find it. But they may also struggle with guilt or turmoil if that love causes them to sacrifice their own dreams. While romance novels often whisk us away to distant, exotic locales, painting pictures of perfect sunsets and fairytale endings with our dream partners, they truly mirror the human experience at their core. Just like us, these stories are carved and defined by the raw passions, aspirations, and fears that make us who we are.


The human heart, it’s a bit like a Rubik’s cube, right? Always twisting and turning, and sometimes a real challenge to figure out! It’s shaped by the people we hang out with, each person adding a new color to our cube. Take our best buddies, for example. They’re the ones we can be completely ourselves with, no pretenses. Being with them is like lounging in your favorite pair of worn-out sweatpants – super comfy and no need to suck in your tummy! And no one mentions those gross green stains on the pockets.

But then there are those folks who rub us the wrong way just by breathing. You know, the ones who make our cube twist up tight, and suddenly, we’re as guarded as a cat in a room full of rocking’ chairs (thank my grandam for that one).

And then there are those bigwigs – the bosses, the leaders, and let’s not forget the king of the jungle, the narcissist. They’ve got a knack for making us feel as small and insignificant as a spec of dust.

And the insecurity? It’s like being shoved onto a stage and told to give a speech on astrophysics. For most of us, that’s about as appealing as a root canal without anesthesia. But hey, if you’re an astrophysicist, it’s probably your idea of a good time. To each their own, right?

These are the colors of our emotional Rubik’s cube. And when we put them into our characters, it makes them as real, as complex, and sometimes as hilariously confusing as we are. And that’s the magic ingredient that makes our stories so darn relatable and captivating.

One thing to remember as you’re developing these characters. Emotions are about as steady as a squirrel lunging for the last nut on a busy highway. One minute, you’re sure you’re head-over-heels in love, and the next, you’re wondering if you were just really into their music list. Emotions can be unpredictable, fast-changing and yes, sometimes dangerous.

Trying to get your feelings to match up with your thoughts is like trying to herd cats. You’re in there, waving a stick, shouting, “Come on, fear, get in line with rational thought! No, love, don’t go wandering off with that wild idea!”

It’s a wild, messy circus, but boy, doesn’t it make for a good read?

But hey, it’s these crazy challenges that shape us into interesting, layered folks, just like those characters we can’t get enough of in our favorite page-turners. So, strap in, folks! This emotional rodeo ain’t for the faint of heart, and it’s guaranteed to be a wilder ride than trying to grocery shop on an empty stomach!

Now, don’t groan (or swear)—I know we’ve all heard this a zillion times. But it’s worth hammering home this point: in writing, we should tap into all five senses to portray our characters’ emotions, instead of just flatly stating, ‘Jane is happy’ or ‘Dick is sad.’

Keep in mind that you don’t want to exhaust your readers (and yourself) with a play-by-play of every single eyebrow twitch or foot tap.  don’t want your novel to read like a hyper-detailed instruction manual for a bizarrely complex game of charades or Twister. Ha! Trust your readers to pick up on subtle cues and trust yourself to know when less is more.

Unraveling emotional depth is like being a chef cooking up a feast. You’ve got to know the ingredients that make up your characters: their past experiences (the appetizers), their motivations (the main course), their relationships (the side dishes), and their emotional highs and lows (the dessert).

When you blend all these ingredients into your story stew, using non-verbal cues like a pinch of salt to bring out the flavors, you end up with characters as rich and satisfying as a five-star meal.

And there it is, folks! the much-anticipated food analogy!

Seriously, though.

As a writer, your ultimate mission is to foster a meaningful connection with your audience. Your words are the bridge that spans the divide between their world and the one you’ve created. This connection isn’t just about compelling plots or vibrant descriptions – it’s about stirring the human heart, touching the soul with the raw, unfiltered essence of emotion and crossing the vail between imaginary and real should be seamless.

Creating a memorable story is a lot like carving a statue out of a block of marble and sometimes if feels just as hard. Each stroke of your chisel, every detail you carve, contributes to the final masterpiece. Each character, each scene, each line of dialogue is a stroke that shapes and defines your sculpture, making it more intricate, more captivating, more alive.

And finally, giving your readers a happy ending is the gentle kiss of sunlight at dawn after a long, dark night. It’s the promise of hope, the soothing balm of resolution, the satisfying last note in a symphony. It’s the gift we, as writers, offer to our readers – a beacon of light in an often unpredictable world.

So, as you continue your journey as a writer, remember the power your words hold. You are not just a storyteller – you are an emotion-stirrer, a tale spinner, a deliverer of happy endings. Use this power wisely, and your readers will thank you for it.

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