Two ways to add emotional weight to your stories

As writers, we want our work to hold weight — for our characters’ actions, emotions, and desires to resonate with and impact our readers. But how do we make that happen?

The most helpful advice, in my experience, has been to:

  1. Make the internal become external, and
  2. Make the external become internal.

Let’s talk about what that means and how these tips can help you add emotional weight to your story.

1. Make the internal become external

To “make the internal become external” is to take the interior aspects of your character (their fears, desires, pains, and realizations) and find ways to express them with external actions. For example:

  • If Marcos realizes his girlfriend doesn’t truly love him, don’t just make him mope; have him throw the engagement ring he purchased into the river.
  • If Amelia feels overworked and stressed at her new job, don’t just show her exhausted in bed; show her bailing on plans with the people she cares about or giving up her favorite pastimes.
  • If Kara is afraid to get onstage and perform as Lady Macbeth, don’t just have her wait in fear; make her run out on the show on opening night.

By expressing your character’s emotions and realizations through clear external actions, you add weight to what they’re going through.

2. Make the external become internal

The goal here is similar, but reversed. Where before you were taking an internal emotion and accentuating it with action, now you’re taking the external elements of your story (plot, character actions, conflicts, etc.) and making them have internal ramifications for your characters. For example:

  • If Thomas gets slapped by his older sister during a disagreement, don’t just move on like it never happened; make it change the dynamic of their relationship for the rest of the story.
  • If Davy’s new boyfriend excessively dotes upon him, don’t just have him awkwardly brush him off; make Davy tentative and uncertain because he’s never been in a healthy relationship before.
  • If Anna loses the championship match of a tennis tournament, don’t just have her grudgingly accept defeat; make her feel crushed because of her impossibly high expectations for herself.

By taking external actions or events and tying them to your character’s deepfelt emotions and, when possible, their core struggle, you add weight to what happens in your story. Everything starts to matter, and that makes for captivating storytelling.

A Final Word

I want to clarify that I’m not telling you to make your characters act and react in ways that don’t make sense for them. Always stay true to your characters. 

But I do encourage you to always look for opportunities to merge the internal and external aspects of your story — because that’s the key to telling stories with true emotional weight.

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