The portrayal of an emotional reaction within a story is broken down and shown chronologically as it happens. Immediately after the motivation, there is a visceral response followed by thought then dialogue and/or action. If taken out of order, the reader feels unsettled.
So what is a visceral response? It is the fight or flight mechanism. Triggered by a threat, the body shuts down organs not necessary for survival and concentrates on those that do. Eyesight may narrow. Attention may concentrate on a particular sound. Adrenal glands may spurt adrenaline. There may be physical reactions like goose bumps or flushing. The contraction of the muscles in the stomach wall may cause nausea or butterflies.
The visceral response is the strongest indicator of an emotion that will activate a change in the POV’s mind. If powerfully written, the story world becomes real and vivid as the reader imagines the same emotion in his own body.
Ways to portray visceral reactions are with involuntary internal and physical reactions. Here are a few:
Emotion Visceral Response
Anger Internal: body tense, heart pounding, face flushing
Fear Internal: speechless, weak leg joints, rapid heartb
Physical: frozen to a spot, shaking, hair standing on end
Love Internal: flutters in stomach, tongue-tied, heart hammering
Sympathy Internal: ache in throat, emotionally strained
Physical: sad countenance, deep sighs, crying
Never label an emotion. Show it. This allows the reader to experience it. And always depict the emotion as it progresses. When a sad person finds joy, show his sadness. Have the sadness go to wonder, then to belief, then to joy.
The second phase of an emotional response is thought. Next time we’ll investigate internal dialogue.—Quinn