Writing emotion is one of the toughest things a writer can do, but done right, it elevates your work from a passably good story to a really great story.
The key to conveying emotion is to allow your reader to experience what your character is experiencing and to relate it, in some way, to their own experiences. We’ve all been angry, afraid, mournful, and happy. We need to draw out those emotions in the reader to really make that connection with our characters.
It doesn’t always take that many words to do this either. Think of a sad song. Listen to it and see how the writer chose the words and scenes to first make you feel a connection and then to introduce a tragic element. Chances are, that they did it in less than 300 words. Sure, the music adds to the overall feeling, but even in our Flash Fiction Fridays, you have another 700 words or so to paint the backdrop that the music represents. Make it appropriate.
Maybe you’ve felt loneliness at home. But, to convey that feeling to your reader, it might be better to place your character on a windswept, overcast coastline, or near some sheer peaks, or even in a seemingly endless desert. Any of these would amplify the loneliness.
Give your character a relatable trait or quirk. If loneliness is the emotion you are trying to convey, give them something recognizable and sympathetic. Maybe they have a lisp or a stutter. We all know that isn’t their fault and will immediately feel some sympathy. Then show (don’t tell) their isolation. You can do this with interactions with other characters (maybe your character is the wall-flower at the dance), or you can do it with inner dialog. If you use inner dialog, don’t make it too self-pitying or you’ll lose the reader’s sympathy.
Say that the emotion you are going for is joy. Build up to it. For example, show your bride-to-be’s growing excitement as she goes through the wedding planning. Hint at her nervousness to give her a challenge to overcome. Increase the tension with a ticking clock to the wedding date. Make sure she blushes as she walks down the aisle. Have her dig her fingernails into her palm as she hopes to remember her vows. Then show her happiness and relief when he kisses his bride.
Emotion isn’t an easy task for a writer, but the more you practice it, the easier it will be. Go back to some of your old, unsold pieces and try to figure out what emotion would make them stronger, then rewrite them to add it in. You might just find that they are, now, very marketable.