Writing Emotions - Understanding Fear and Frustration

Anyone who has read my fiction knows that I love to weave emotions into my words, to make the reader feel as they go through the story. Some of this comes from my desire to put you in the mindset of the characters. Some of this from my desire to be as authentic in the writing as possible. And a lot of it likely comes from my professional training as a school psychologist who specializes in understanding behavior and emotions.

Weaving emotions into your stories starts with a basic understanding of why we, as humans, act as we do - what motivates our behaviors and actions, especially our maladaptive ones.

Most people engage in various problem behaviors for one of two reasons - as a reaction to feeling out of control or threatened (referred to as responding behaviors), or to gain control over a situation (referred to as operating behaviors). This post focuses on understanding responding behaviors.

Fear and frustration are significant motivators to many negative behaviors. These responding behaviors have but one goal - Reduce the threat the person is feeling.

There are several ways to tell if a person is reacting to their environment due to fear or frustration, auditory and visual signals that tell us what is motivating the behavior.

With fear, a person's voice becomes whiny and breathy. Sometimes a person is rendered unable to speak at all, and his or her breathing becomes irregular. A person functioning from a basis of fear will often appear ashen, with a wide-eyed stare that is either fixed or darting, looking for an escape. His or her body will be tense and on the defensive.

Frustration looks somewhat different from fear. In this case, a person's voice is often loud and he or she may speak through clenched teeth. The person may appear tense and ready for a fight. His or her skin may be dark and red as his or her circulation increases. He or she may clench his/her jaw and have an overly focused glare.

Knowing how fear and frustration look and sound can help a writer realistically portray, and elicit, both
the behaviors and the emotions.

I hope this has helped you understand a little bit about responding behaviors. Next time I will focus on manipulation and intimidation -  maladaptive operating behaviors.


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