Feelings in Writing
Feelings… we all have them.
From the minute we wake up, we experience things. We feel excited when the alarm goes off because we are going on holidays, we can’t find our passports so we feel worried, we find them and we're relieved, we think about breakfast but skip it instead, we are indecisive. This can all happen within ten minutes. Finally, we get to the airport, board our plane, and feel relaxed.
So how can we turn this tool that is already a central part of us into writing?
I will give you a few ideas and hope one of them will get your children motivated to write.
How are you feeling?
To begin with, we need to identify feelings. Sometimes children know how they feel, sometimes emotions are confusing – they can say they are upset, when in fact they are worried, or they can say they are scared when they are actually excited. So the first order of business is this: how is the character feeling?
Whether they want to make this autobiographical or fictional, they will need to have an idea of what is going on inside their story’s main character.
To help children identify which feelings they want to explore, you can show them pictures of people experiencing different things. You can use Google images for this, or you can draw different faces on a piece of paper and ask your children to identify what the face represents, a bit like in Pictionary.
Once you have a few feelings written down under each drawn face (or on a piece of paper if you got the pictures online or from a magazine), you can find some synonyms, which will depend on your child’s age. For example, a happy face can also be someone feeling thrilled, excited, elated, ecstatic, and so on. This is an easy way of sneaking in some new vocabulary.
No matter how euphoric or miserable the character is, we have all been there, we all understand. Everyone has at some point been angry, cheerful, disappointed, or pleased.
So for this first exercise, whether they choose to do it in the first person or the third, encourage them to write about the way the character is feeling, and see how that relates to his or her actions throughout the story. At the end, is the character feeling the same or not? Why?
They can start with something like, “My sister entered the room feeling furious…” or “Dad woke up feeling optimistic…”. At the end of the exercise, they can remove that first sentence or the emotion they wrote down, and see if the readers can understand how the character feels without telling them, taking cues from what is written down later in the story, from the character’s actions. Grown-up writers will often hear the phrase “Show, don’t tell.” Were you able to show us how the character feels without telling us what the feeling is? Well done!
If children are short of ideas, you can help them write a list of things or situations that make them feel a certain way.
Journals and diaries
Another exercise they can try if they want to explore feelings is to write journal entries. These are non-fiction accounts of their day, and they can explore what they have done on a specific day and how they felt about it. Journals are great if they want to spend less time creating imaginary characters and want to focus on how they feel. Children can write single entries if they don’t want to keep a journal for a long time, they can include them in their writing notebook.
Feeling as a character
Finally, they can go back to fiction and imagine the main character is a feeling. Your children are probably familiar with the Little Miss and Mr. Men characters created by Roger Hargreaves. Or the Pixar film Inside Out, where a little girl from Minnesota experiences big changes in her life as her family moves across the country.
Your children can have a go at telling a story from the point of view of a feeling-character (e.g, “Happiness was over-the-moon today...”). You can still work on vocabulary (synonyms) and lists of what situations can trigger these feelings.