Character Tips, D&D / TTRPGs, Storytelling Tips

How to Use the Emotion Wheel to Tell Better Stories

We discuss how reading and referencing the Emotion Wheel can enhance your character and story building.

Perhaps you have seen the Emotion Wheel pictured online? This large colorful wheel starts with six “basic” emotions and then gets more and more specific with the next two rings in the wheel. It was created by late psychologist Robert Plutchik. It was made to help people better understand and verbalize their own emotions. But it also has great applications for storytellers. Whether your focus is on writing a story or roleplaying a character, looking at the Emotion Wheel has tremendous benefits.

Writing Better Characters

This Emotion Wheel can be a great benefit to your writing. Consulting this helps to understand the complexities of personalities, emotions, and reactions to situations. Use it to build more believable villains, to craft stronger character motivations, and to ensure your story is character-driven instead of plot-driven. Let’s use some examples from our own Thread of Souls book:

  • After pirate Sen’s capture in Book 1, we see great fear in him in Book 2. Fear of interplanar travel and associations. If we look at Fear on the list, we can move to the next ring. Sen is feeling Scared. Why is he scared? What is the base? We look at the final outer ring. Sen feels Helpless. Helpless that a Dragonborn as big and strong as he can still be imprisoned and tortured.
  • Healer Taliesin is feeling Sad about crossing the priestesses that rule his city which caused them to punish him. What is the root of his Sadness? The next ring clarifies that he is feeling Despair. Why is he feeling Despair? The final ring can clarify that he’s feeling Powerless. Powerless at the oppressive matriarchal system that governs his city.

Roleplaying Characters

If you enjoy TTRPG’s, you are asked to fully become your character each game session. Now if your playing style is just to snack and roll dice while not being story-invested, that is fine. We hope you found a group who plays that style. But as we saw from our D&D survey, most people that play are emotionally-driven and insightful. And to avoid being the person who simply shrugs decisions off with “That’s what my character would do”, we can have a better understanding of actually why.

When thinking about your character between games, consult the Emotion Wheel to help interpret their actions last game, as well as what they are planning next game. For example, if your character is feeling Joy, what is the source of that Joy? Are they feeling Satisfied or Amused? If your character is Angry, what is the root cause? Are they Frustrated or Jealous? Knowing what goes on inside your character will help guide your actions next game. And help you bring a more authentic experience to the table.

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