Using Vocal Cues to Show Hidden Emotion

By Becca Puglisi, @beccapuglisi

Part of The How They Do It Series

JH: Tapping into the hidden emotions and subtext of a scene is a wonderful way to pull readers into that scene. Becca Puglisi visits the lecture hall today to share her tips on creating subtext and using vocal cues to show the hidden emotional layers of your characters. 

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and author of bestselling books for writers—including her latest publication: a second edition of The Emotion Thesaurus, an updated and expanded version of the original volume. Her books are available in multiple languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter |

Take it away Becca…

Do we have any Tolkien fans in the house? I distinctly remember, as a teen, reading The Hobbit by the fire on a rare cold evening in Florida. It quickly became a favorite that I would re-read until my copy literally fell to pieces.

One of my very favorite scenes from that book comes right at the beginning: the Unexpected Party. There are a lot of reasons why it works so well—one of which is the inclusion of everything Bilbo is not saying. When the dwarves arrive (and keep arriving), he wants to know what they’re doing there, but instead of asking, he puts on his Happy Homemaker face and gets to work being hospitable. When it grows late, he doesn’t show them the door. He refrains from telling Thorin to get off his high horse and show some gratitude for Bilbo funding his little reunion, though you know that’s what he’s thinking.

The interactions between Bilbo and the dwarves in this scene ring true precisely because of all the subtext—the contrast between what the character says and what he’s really feeling or thinking. This subtext is a normal part of most real-life conversations; for this reason alone, it should be included in our characters’ interactions. But it’s also useful because whenever a character is hiding something, there’s inherent emotion involved. Emotion is good for our stories because well-written, clearly conveyed character emotion will often engage the reader’s emotions, pulling them deeper into what’s happening. So subtext is good on a number of levels. See More . . . 

Scroll to Top