Posted On March 17, 2017 by Print This Post

Creating Emotional Depth in Your Characters – by Mary Jane Morgan

Happy Friday, RU Crew! Please welcome first-time Visiting Professor author Mary Jane Morgan. 

As a consumer, I am always drawn to books that are rich with emotion. Makes perfect sense right? The way I view this is that in order for readers to escape from reality, they need a book with deep emotion. As a writer, my goal is to layer emotions throughout my book. Why? Because just as in real life, emotions are what drive people.

That’s one of the reasons I love to write romance. You can’t delve into a romantic relationship without a lot of emotion. If you fail to do that, your readers will never connect with your hero and heroine. But if you show your hero and heroine’s emotions, those feelings will stay with your readers long after they have finished your book!

So how do you create emotion that resonates with your readers?

Before you write one word of your story, you need to get inside the heads of your hero and heroine and feel what they are going through. This means you need to not only be in the moment but have done your homework in developing your characters and know why your characters react in a certain way. So before starting your book, take time to dig deep inside your characters. That means writing out their family history, relationship history, etc. before you begin your story, and digging deep into their family of origin. Why? Seems like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it? Well, it is hard work, but well worth it, because when you finally get to the real crux of what drives your characters’ emotions, you will be able to create characters who come to life for your readers.

Let’s take a look at one particular emotion: anger. We all know that feeling only too well. Some of us better than others, but no one is immune to anger. Oftentimes, though, anger is a mask for something much more painful—grief. And because grief is so much more painful than anger, people often hide behind anger so they don’t have to deal with their grief.

Here is an excerpt of that:

Megan couldn’t believe how much money it took to keep this place up and running. She’d been oblivious all her life about the financial end of running a Thoroughbred farm. Then her father had died.

Or rather killed himself.

To make matters worse, they’d discovered after his death that he’d invested a huge chunk of his savings into some bad deals. Not only that, he’d also sold all of their top stallion’s frozen sperm to finance those deals. Damn him anyway. How in the world was she supposed to keep their business afloat?

Lord knows her mother was no help. She was too busy throwing a pity party to even think of anyone but herself. If only her mother hadn’t gotten involved with Harry Dawson, her father would still be alive. The money would be gone, but she wouldn’t be stuck all by herself trying to save a drowning ranch. Grief and fear rolled through her, burning her throat and tightening her chest, but she shoved it aside.

Damn Dawson. And her mother too. She glanced toward the house where her mother was, no doubt, lying in bed feeling sorry for herself. She’d been like this since her husband had died, and she showed no signs of stepping up to the plate on any of her responsibilities, not even being a mother to Lauren, who hadn’t muttered so much as one peep since finding their dad.

Selective mute is what the therapist called it. A living nightmare is what Megan called it.

The anger she usually managed to tamp down re-surfaced with a rush, and for once she welcomed it, because it gave her the energy to keep putting one foot in front of the other and try her best to save her beloved Thoroughbred farm.

You can see in this excerpt that Megan realized she was clinging to anger as a way of holding herself together, but she also realized that it might be the only thing that kept her going. Can you identify with Megan’s emotions, both her anger and her despair? Does it create a bond with this young woman who has had to leave college to help save her horse farm, deal with a sister who has been mute since finding their father dead in the barn, and somehow try to understand a mother who can’t seem to be there for her children, especially her youngest daughter who desperately needs her?

In my book Long Road Home, I use the dynamics of this by showing a hero and heroine who are dealing not only with the hardships facing them at the moment, but the emotional hardships that stem from their family of origin. Both Brett and Megan must learn to understand how those difficulties have molded them into the adults they are now, before they can truly feel free to love with their whole heart.

I cannot emphasize enough how important emotions are, but unless you delve deeply and understand your characters’ emotions, your readers will not see the real motivation behind their actions.

If it helps to write down as many emotions as you can, then by all means do so. And don’t forget, humor is a great way to break up tension and show how a certain character copes.

I recently bought a book, The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I highly recommended this book. It not only lists different emotions, but describes the body language that expresses these emotions.

So dig deep, pull out those character emotions, and create a story that will draw your readers into your book and have them looking for more.

Do you, as a reader, ever make emotional discoveries about yourself while reading a good book?



Every man in Paige Dillingham’s life has walked out on her when she needed them the most, so she devotes herself to her first love—delivering babies—until she meets the sweet, sexy, irresistible brother of a patient and wonders if she dares to risk her heart one more time.

For Justin Coleman, settling down and having a family is very important—someday. But for now, he’s perfectly happy playing the field. That is, until the night Paige Dillingham walks into his pub and everything changes.

“Just friends” doesn’t last long, but when Justin wants more, old fears return for Paige. Will she have the courage to tell Justin the secret she’s hidden from everyone—the secret that could very well be the deal breaker that shatters her dreams one last time? Or will she say no to the man she loves, because she knows she can’t give him what he wants?


Bio: Mary Jane Morgan grew up in a small town and spent many of her days riding one of her three horses. Having lived in the country as a child, she has a great love for nature and animals. “I was always rescuing dogs and birds,” she says. “My parents were saints about all the critters healing in the garage.”

Her writing career began with greeting cards and nonfiction, but when she took a class on fiction, she was totally hooked! Her first romance novel, DANGEROUS MOVES, was published by Kensington Publishing in 2001. Her second romance, BLAKE’S PROMISE, was published by Starlite Publishing in 2002. After publishing SHELBY’S GIFT, she wrote her CRYSTAL SPRINGS HOMECOMING ROMANCES series which includes: LONG ROAD HOME, COMING HOME, A HOME FOR HALEY, and HOME AT LAST.

Her CRYSTAL SPRINGS, THE WEDDING CHAPEL series has one book out, GOING TO THE CHAPEL. The second book in the series, SINCE I FOUND YOU, will be released March 16, 2017.

“The heroes in my series are sexy, alpha men and the heroines are independent, strong women. Adversity is no stranger to them and when these men and women love, they love with their whole heart.”

Mary Jane loves to hear from her readers, so feel free to email her at To learn more about Mary Jane, visit her website or connect with her via Facebook, and Twitter.

Happy Reading!

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4 Responses to “Creating Emotional Depth in Your Characters – by Mary Jane Morgan”

  1. Hi Mary Jane,

    Happy Release Day!

    Characters lacking in emotional depth are just names on a page with speaking parts. While a reader may not relate to let’s say, an heroine’s lavish lifestyle, they can empathize with her issues. We’re human. We’re not perfect, and we have lots of emotional baggage. Having said that, I also believe an author can burden a character with too many issues, which sometimes results in pages of internal monologues, and that gets tiresome for a reader.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 17, 2017, 1:54 pm
  2. Thanks for the article. This is an area I’ve been working on. Yes, I read a lot of Danielle Steel novels, and in “Blue” the main character, who buried herself in humanitarian work in the worst places around the globe to assuage her grief, made me yearn to be away from the ignorance, and intolerance, and ego of people who have much more choices and opportunities than people who see starvation and violence as a way of life.
    What emotions did I discover, perhaps like your character in “Long Road Home” it’s anger disguising grief because of the loss I’ve experienced, as a result, of people consumed by error.
    Yet, I don’t dwell on negative emotions. The last thing I want is to be like my transgressors.

    Posted by Anna | March 18, 2017, 10:22 pm

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