[Discussion] Do You Notice The Anger Emotion When Reading? #MondayBlogs #AmReading

I Have A Reading Niggle!

My thoughts on showing emotion in writing, particularly anger.

When I’m reading a novel for review, I have a mental list of points which make or break it for me. I think we all have them; some readers will abandon a book in which the dialogue is unrealistic, for others it might be over-use of adjectives and metaphors.

One element that I have a problem with is when a writer has over-played one emotion, especially when that emotion is anger.

Anger is dramatic. It can be violent, loud, or smouldering underneath. It’s also exhausting; I find the smouldering sort of anger more realistic, as it tends to build throughout the book, for instance, within the main character in a thriller. If it is written well, this can gain empathy from the reader, rather than make them want to step away and read about someone with a calmer outlook.

The type of anger I find jarring is when a character responds to a situation or confrontation only by shouting, swearing, perhaps throwing a tantrum, to the point it becomes boring and unpleasant to read. You know the character in a soap opera who is always taking what people say the wrong way and storming out of the pub, etc? Someone who reacts in this way, often, tends to be avoided by others. Such reactions are draining emotionally, and, in real life, people are not so volatile; your average adult does not make a habit of shouting, throwing tantrums or flying off the handle. Yet recently I’ve read quite a few books in which a main character seems incapable of reacting in any other way.

In the same way as using abusive language in dialogue, if any emotion is used too much, the impact is watered down. Use it sparingly, in a short burst, and it has a higher impact. If your character needs to be angry at the world then there are lots of other emotions that can express this, like sulking, wanting to be alone, bitterness, cynicism, anxiety. Most people display a huge range of emotions every single day; fictional characters should, too.

Writing tips

For professional advice on writing a range of emotions, I recommend the Writer’s Craft books from Rayne Hall. She talks sensibly about every emotion having a physical effect, in her book Writing Deep Point Of View, and also how to use a character’s mood to see different slants on situations.


Find Rayne on AmazonUk | AmazonUS

Other writers also recommend:

The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi – AmazonUK | AmazonUS

Or the works of James Scott Bell AmazonUK | AmazonUS

I’d be interested to hear any other readers’ opinion on this.

20 thoughts on “[Discussion] Do You Notice The Anger Emotion When Reading? #MondayBlogs #AmReading

  1. I agree. I was completely put off an art thriller series that had looked promising because the main character only had one emotional state (stroppy!) and became extremely irritating. She was, we were told, a genius but incapable of empathy. It could have been interesting but she was so one dimensional I lost interest. I had the same problem with one of the Harry Potter books when Harry was at the stage of being an angry teenager. I also gave up although I’d enjoyed the first few books.

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    • That’s interesting, it has made me think about the Harry Potter books. I like all those books, so I wonder if it makes a difference to a reader’s perception, if they are drawn in by other concepts in the book?

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  2. I’ve actually worked with a couple of people who threw a strop at the drop of a hat. One was a boss who used to shout and scream and throw things and the other a coworker who stomps around slamming drawers and banging the phone down. Neither are particularly great to be around (although occasionally funny)

    In terms of books it kind of depends on the character and situation. I’ve come across a few police procedural stories where it actually worked well and seemed believable. It has worked less well in other books though. I totally agree with the comment above re Harry Potter. He bugged the hell out of me when he turned into a stroppy teen.

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    • The fact the angry co-workers were repelling tells us that so much anger pushes people away.
      I wonder if authors writing teenage characters feel showing them with lots of anger reflects general teenage angst? I know I prefer to read about a whole range of emotions, for me it is about depth of character.

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  3. I agree, Rosie. Anger is an exhausting emotion to maintain and I find it off putting to have a character constantly exploding with it. It’s usually an over reaction which as a reader I find unrealistic.

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  4. Interesting post, Rosie. I know that when I write anger scenes I can find them quite draining so I can understand how this can translate for the reader. I hope that I managed to tone my work down and use appropriate ‘show don’t tell’ sentences. As you point out, there are so many ways to convey anger using body language, emotions, etc. rather than opting for a full on tizzy fit. Some characters, however, do lend themselves to the full on over-played anger. Certainly something to ponder for both reader and writer.

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  5. I have to agree. When a character can only show that emotion it comes across as immature, over exaggerated and one dimensional, making them totally unrelatable.


  6. Thanks, Rosie. I guess it depends on the story. I agree such characters are draining in real life but they exist (not perhaps in all circumstances but they can come across as such). I prefer subtle too, but I remember having a similar conversation about the fact that some of the advice given to people who had difficulty interpreting human expressions and emotions was to watch soaps, and I thought that was terrible advice as they would all end up believing that unless you shouted or exaggerated you were not experiencing any emotions. (And then, in some cultures, people are more expressive than others. I know in Spain and Italy we are more fiery and gesticulate more).


    • Interesting points Olga. I expect the setting for an angry character would also affect a readers perspective. But I agree watching soaps might not give an author quite the right idea.


  7. Insightful post, Rosie. Anger is one emotion that can go over the top really fast. However, a well-placed outburst is a great way to amp the tension. As Linda Lee just commented, everything in moderation! I use my Mom and Dad when I think of anger – they had some major disagreements, but they blew over quickly.


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