It can be difficult to write an emotionless character convincingly. Since I’ve written characters without emotions in several of my stories, I want to share my best tips.
Here’s how to write an emotionless character:
You write an emotionless character by identifying the level of emotionality, focusing on their thoughts and actions, giving them great dialogue, and providing them with an outlet for expression. You can also contrast them with other characters, show glimmers of emotion, and use them for comedy.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write an emotionless character.
What Is an Emotionless Character?
In literature, an emotionless character is usually portrayed as someone who is cold, distant, and unfeeling.
These characters often lack empathy and are often unable to express their own emotions. While they may seem heartless, they sometimes have a deep understanding of human emotions and can be quite perceptive.
One of the most famous examples of an emotionless character is Mr. Spock from Star Trek.
Spock is a half-human, half-Vulcan who has been raised to suppress his emotions and logic. As a result, he comes across as being very reserved and stoic.
However, Spock is also a highly-skilled scientist who is able to use his objectivity and knowledge to help others.
Another well-known example of an emotionless character is the narrator from The Catcher in the Rye.
The narrator, Holden Caulfield, is a teenager who has been kicked out of several schools and is now living in New York City. Holden is frequently critical of others and has difficulty connecting with people.
However, he also has a deep love for his little sister and a great deal of compassion for those he perceives to be innocent. While emotionless characters may seem unfeeling, they often have hidden depths that are revealed over time.
Types of Emotionless Characters
There are four main types of emotionless characters.
It’s important to know which kind of emotionless character you want to write so that you accurately and more easily write from their point of view.
The three main types:
- Emotionally centered
- Ice Queen
Here is how I would define each type.
There are some characters who just ooze emotion. They feel everything intensely and let their emotions guide their actions. Then there are others who seem to be emotionally disconnected from the world around them. They tend to be more logical and level-headed, making decisions based on reason rather than impulse. These types of characters are often said to have “emotional intelligence.” They know how to manage their own emotions and remain calm in the face of adversity.
This character is able to keep their emotions in check, no matter what the situation.
They’re the type of person who never cries, never gets angry, and never shows any fear. This can make them seem like they’re not really human, but it can also make them seem very strong and admirable.
One famous example is James Bond.
No matter what situation he finds himself in, Bond always remains cool, collected, and in control. He never lets his emotions get the better of him, which allows him to make clear-headed decisions that often mean the difference between life and death.
Other examples include:
- Jack Reacher
- Jason Bourne
- Evan Smoak
- Mr. Spock
- Sherlock Holmes
- Dr. House
- Sheldon Cooper
This character is often cold, aloof, and unfriendly.
They may have a sharp tongue and a quick temper, but they never show any real emotions. This type of character is often seen as bossy or intimidating, but they can also be very intriguing and mysterious.
Note, too, that this emotionally vacant type can equally apply to men.
So, Ice King, I suppose.
Examples of an Ice Queen:
- Claire Underwood
- Margaret Tate
- Miranda Priestly
- Victoria (RED, RED 2)
- Kathryn Merteuil
- Meredith Blake
In fiction, psychopaths are often portrayed as emotionless characters.
This is because they lack empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the emotions of others. This emotional detachment allows them to commit horrific acts without feeling any remorse. In addition, psychopaths are often highly intelligent and manipulative.
They are able to charm and deceive people in order to get what they want.
This makes them dangerous opponents who are hard to catch. However, it is important to remember that psychopaths are not actually emotionless.
They may not experience emotions in the same way as other people, but they are still capable of feeling things like anger, joy, and fear. Consequently, they are not truly soulless monsters.
Rather, they are complex human beings whose actions cannot be fully explained by a lack of emotions.
Examples of psychopaths:
- Hannibal Lecter
- Dexter Morgan
- Annie Wilkes
- Frank Underwood
- Tom Ripley
- Patrick Bateman
When it comes down to it, these four categories further divide into an almost endless spiderweb of subtypes.
That means you can create and write a highly original emotionless character for your story.
10 Ways to Write an Emotionless Character (That Your Readers Will Love)
Writing emotionless characters can get tricky, so here are 10 ways to help you write one.
Go slowly through each tip so that you give yourself time to think deeply about how to apply it to your emotionless protagonist, supporting character, or antagonist.
1) Focus On Thought & Action
I find it supremely helpful to focus on the internal thoughts and external actions of the emotionless character.
What is this character thinking, and what are they doing? How do they react to the emotions of other characters? By exploring the inner life of an emotionless character, writers can give readers a window into a unique and intriguing way of seeing the world.
Another important consideration is how you convey emotional states in writing.
Just because a character doesn’t experience emotions doesn’t mean that they can’t be described in an emotive way. In fact, many writers find that an emotionless character can be more fascinating to write about than a traditional “rounded” character.
By focusing on the thoughts and actions of an emotionless character, writers can create a fully-realized portrait of someone who is detached from their emotions.
2) Give Them Symbols of Emotion
One way that you can convey emotional weight with an emotionless character is to give them physical outlets for expression.
For example, symbols such as a picture of a loved one, a wilted flower, or a necklace.
These objects serve as emotional symbols.
By giving the character these objects, the author is able to show the reader how the character is feeling without having to explicitly state it. This can be a useful tool for creating complex and interesting characters.
Simply showing your character interacting with the object occasionally can be enough to show humanity, relatability, and motivation.
However, it is important to use these symbols sparingly, as they can quickly become overused and trite.
When used judiciously, however, they can be a powerful tool for creating layered and compelling characters.
3) Contrast Their Response With Other Characters
One big tip for writing emotionless characters is to contrast the non-response of the emotionless character with the emotionalism of other characters in the story.
If everyone in a room is weeping except for one person, that person’s lack of emotion will be all the more striking.
Similarly, if an emotionally charged scene is interrupted by a character who remains calm and unaffected, it can create a powerful contrast that highlights the emotions of those around them.
By playing with emotional contrasts in this way, writers can create fully developed characters who lack any emotional response.
4) Make Them Memorable In Other Ways
There are a number of ways that writers can make their characters memorable without relying on emotions.
One way is to give them superpowers or special abilities.
The superpower can be anything from the ability to fly to super strength or the power of invisibility. This can make them stand out from the rest of the cast and give them a unique perspective on the world.
Another way to make characters memorable is to give them an obsession or unusual hobby.
This could be something as innocuous as stamp collecting or as dangerous as skydiving. Whatever you choose, make sure that it is something that your readers can connect with on some level.
This can help to add depth and dimension to your character.
Also, you can simply make your character unusual in some way. This could be anything from the way they dress to their mannerisms and speech patterns.
Finally, writers can also make use of flashbacks or other devices to help explain their character’s backstory.
5) Master Strong Dialogue
When it comes to writing an emotionless character, dialogue is key.
Even more so than with other characters, the way an emotionless character speaks can really help to bring them to life on the page.
This is because, without emotions to express, an emotionless character has to rely on their words to convey who they are and what they’re thinking. As a result, their dialogue needs to be carefully crafted in order to give readers a window into their inner world.
Of course, this isn’t to say that emotions never play a role in the characterization of an emotionless character.
In fact, the absence of emotions can itself be a powerful tool for revealing character.
By showing how an emotionless character reacts (or doesn’t react) to the events around them, writers can give readers a better understanding of who they are and what they’re thinking.
However, it is through internal (thoughts) and external dialogue (words) that writers can really bring an emotionless character to life on the page.
6) Don’t Confuse Emotionless With Passivity or Indifference
There seems to be a lot of confusion these days about what it means to write a “flat” or “emotionless” character.
A flat character is one who is two-dimensional, meaning they are not fully developed and lack depth. An emotionless character, on the other hand, is a fully developed character who simply doesn’t show their emotions on the surface.
Just because a character is emotionless does not mean they are flat or uninteresting.
In fact, some of the most compelling characters are those who keep their emotions hidden.
Emotionless is also not synonymous with indifference.
Indifference is when a character doesn’t care about the plot or other characters. This can certainly make for a boring character, but it’s important to remember that an emotionless character can still care deeply about what’s happening even if they don’t show it.
7) Mirror Great Emotionless Characters
Over the years, I’ve found that modeling and mirroring great emotionless characters really help me write one.
I’m not talking about copying another character outright—that is wrong and probably illegal.
What I mean is to study famous emotionless characters, identify patterns, and apply your insights to your own 100% original characters.
I’ve already mentioned many great examples in this article already.
Another example of an emotionless character is the Terminator from the Terminator franchise.
The Terminator is a cyborg who has been programmed to kill without mercy. He is relentless in the pursuit of his targets and feels no remorse for the lives he takes.
However, the Terminator is not without empathy.
Over the course of the franchise, he begins to understand human emotions and even comes to care for the humans he is initially tasked to kill.
8) Use Them For Comedic Relief
In many stories, writers use emotionless characters for comic relief and comedy.
These characters often have deadpan expressions, speak in a monotone voice, and display little to no emotion. While they might seem out of place in a story that is full of drama and conflict, they can actually be quite humorous.
For instance, in the popular TV show, The Office, the character Dwight Schrute is often the butt of jokes because of his serious demeanor.
Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory fame is another emotionless main character that brings comedy to the show.
By contrast, more emotional characters can provide a balance to the story and help to highlight the emotional moments.
9) Show Some Growth
Give your readers a glimpse into the character’s emotions at least once in the story.
I call this a microcosm of emotion.
At least once in the story (and maybe two or three times), hint at a deeper emotional well within the character. Just a subtle nod that gives the character some relatability and the readers some hope.
Hope that “Hey, this character does have a soul after all!”
It’s related to the “Will they or won’t they” trope in romances. The two characters get close to kissing several times in the story before finally locking lips.
Several scenes of almost kissing build anticipation that makes the final scene more explosive and meaningful.
10) Alter Your Approach for Different Kinds of Characters
The way you write an emotionless character can differ depending on their role in your story.
For example, an emotionless hero might show up differently than an emotionless villain. When writing your emotionless character, keep their story role in mind.
Here is how you might write the different roles:
- Emotionless Main Character—For the main character, you probably want to give them more of backstory, a symbol of their emotional expression, and spend a lot of story time on their thoughts, actions, and dialogue.
- Emotionless Side Character—A side character needs less backstory and less space in the story. It’s usually ok if a side character is a one-note character.
- Emotionless Antagonist—The enemy or villain of your story also needs some backstory, motivation, and time spent on fleshing them out through their conversations, internal monologues, and physical actions. Their goals and actions should conflict or compete with the protagonist. The way their lack of emotion shows up in the story is often through violence, illegal behaviors, and other decisions outside of societal norms.
Here is a good video about how to write an emotionless character:
Is Emotionless a Character Trait?
Yes, emotionless is a character trait.
Some people are naturally more emotional than others. However, there are also those who have experienced trauma or pain that has led them to suppress their emotions.
In these cases, this may be a defense mechanism to protect themselves from further hurt.
There are also people who just don’t know how to express what they are feeling. They’ve never developed or flexed their emotional muscles, so to speak.
Therefore, emotionless should not always be seen as a negative character trait.
Just because someone does not show their emotions on the surface does not mean that they are not capable of feeling them.
It is important to remember that everyone responds to the world in their own way. And just because someone does not wear their emotions on their sleeve does not mean they are any less human.
Traits of an Emotionless Character
To help you write about emotionless characters, I wanted to share a quick summary of some of the traits of unemotional characters.
Here are common traits of an emotionless character:
- A lack of empathy or compassion
- Inability to experience strong emotions
- Difficult or impossible time forming interpersonal attachments
- Stoic or blank facial expression
- Intelligent or logical
- Able to detachedly assess situations and make decisions
- Unlikable characters
That’s not to say that all emotionless characters are unlikable. More on that in a moment.
How To Describe an Emotionless Person
When I first started writing about emotionless characters, I found describing them pretty difficult.
I just couldn’t get a handle on how to describe their eyes, faces, voices, actions, or thoughts. However, through a ton of experimentation, I landed on a few strategies that work wonders for me.
Check them out below.
How To Describe Emotionless Eyes
When someone’s eyes are emotionless, it can give them an eerie feel. It can also make them seem either disconnected from the world around them or incredibly guarded.
Here are some different ways you might describe emotionless eyes:
- They were cold and hard, like chips of ice
- Their gaze was vacant and unseeing
- The eyes were dead, like a doll’s eyes
- There was no life in them, as if they were merely mirrors reflecting back my own image
Here is a longer description of emotionless eyes:
His eyes were cold and emotionless, like a shark’s. They seemed to bore into my soul, seeking out my weaknesses. I couldn’t help but feel intimidated by those eyes. There was something about them that just screamed “predator.” I tried to hold his gaze, but eventually I had to look away. It was like staring into the void, and I didn’t want to get lost in that darkness. Even now, I can still remember those eyes. They haunt my dreams, and I can’t shake the feeling that they’re always watching me…waiting for the right moment to strike.
But whatever description, emotionless eyes are almost always unsettling.
How To Describe an Emotionless Face
You can describe a character’s emotionless face by using words like “blank” and “expressionless.”
In other words, by describing what is there and what is not there.
Here’s are some examples:
- Her face was impassive, giving away no hint of what she was feeling inside.
- Their face looked cold and hard, betraying no softness or warmth.
- Their lips were set in a thin line, betraying no emotion.
- It was as if their face was a blank slate, waiting to be written on by the world.
- He appeared guarded, his feelings carefully hidden away from the world. They may have been hurt in the past, and now they’ve built up a wall around themselves, refusing to let anyone in. Or maybe they’re just naturally guarded, keeping their emotions close to their chest. Whatever the reason, he is someone who is difficult to read, their feelings carefully hidden away.
Now let’s look at a longer description:
Her face was expressionless, betraying no hint of the emotions roiling inside. It was as if a mask had been glued onto her face. Her eyes were cold and hard, like chips of ice, and her mouth was as thin as barbed wire. There was something about her posture and the way she held herself that radiated a kind of stillness, a dangerous calm. It was unnerving, this lack of emotion, this complete control. It made you wonder what she might be capable of if she ever let go.
How To Describe an Emotionless Voice
An emotionless voice can convey a sense of detachment, indifference, or even coldness.
It can be used to create a sense of foreboding or suspense—or to convey the internal conflict of a character struggling to keep their emotions in check.
When describing an emotionless voice, consider:
- Sentence length
Check out these descriptions of an emotionless voice.
The voice was like ice water, numbing everything it touched. There was no emotion, no feeling, only a cold emptiness that seeped into her bones and left her shivering. It was a voice that spoke of things beyond her understanding, of a world she could never hope to comprehend. And yet, despite its alien nature, she found herself drawn to it, compelled to listen.
His voice was like a cold wind, cities and people reduced to dust in its wake.
The voice was like a dark night, devoid of stars or moonlight. It was the voice of despair, of hopelessness, of all the things she had ever been afraid of.
The voice was like a blade, cold and sharp. There was no emotion, no inflection. It was the voice of someone who had seen too much, done too much. They had been through hell and come out the other side, but they had left their humanity behind. Now, they were just a shell of a person, going through the motions but feeling nothing. This voice could cut through the toughest facade and find the softest spot underneath. It was a voice that brooked no nonsense and demanded results. This was a voice that would never give up, never back down, never show weakness. This was a voice that belonged to a survivor.
How To Describe Emotionless Action
You can describe an emotionless action by how the character performs the action.
An emotionless character might act without hesitation or remorse, swiftly taking out his enemies without a second thought. He or she might do the unthinkable without flinching.
You can describe an emotionless action as:
Here are a few examples.
The man’s hand closed around the doorknob, and he gave it a hard twist. His expression was blank as he stepped into the room, his eyes sweeping over the scene before him. The body was still warm, but there was no pulse. Blood pooled on the floor, and the smell of iron was heavy in the air. The man knelt down beside the body, careful not to disturb the evidence. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small notebook, jotting down a few notes before getting to his feet and walking out of the room.
After emptying her best friend’s bank account, Taylor stood in front of the window, looking out at the rain. It was a cold, gray day, and the rain was coming down hard. Taylor didn’t mind the weather; in fact, she found it quite refreshing. She watched as the raindrops cascaded down the glass, making ripples as they landed. The sound of the rain soothed her, and she felt herself relax. After a few minutes, she turned away from the window and went to start dinner.
As he stood over the dead body, he felt nothing. No remorse, no regret, no sense of loss. He had killed before, and he would kill again. It was just another day on the job. Another target eliminated. He met the eyes of his victim and saw only emptiness there. In that moment, he was aware of how empty he felt inside. He wondered if he would ever feel anything again. Would the job continue to numb him until he was nothing more than a soulless machine? He shook off the morbid thoughts and focused on the task at hand. There was still work to be done.
How To Describe Emotionless Thought
It’s equally important to describe an emotionless character’s thoughts.
Along with action and dialogue, thoughts will ultimately reveal the character on the page. Therefore, it’s essential that your nail these descriptions and narrations.
Much of your work should be accomplished with the words that make up your character’s thoughts.
An emotionless thought is:
- Disregards emotions
In other words, emotionless thought is devoid of care, filters, and human compassion. I personally prefer short, punchy thoughts rather than long meandering inner monologues.
Here are some examples:
- Ok, she’s dead.
- I guess I need to make him disappear.
- Well, that was unexpected.
- Time to move on.
Keep in mind that these thoughts would occur moments after something incredibly terrible just happened.
How Do You Make An Emotionless Character Likable?
In any story, emotional connection is key to keeping readers engaged.
Even the most action-packed plot will fall flat if readers can’t find a way to connect with the characters. This can be a particular challenge when it comes to writing emotionless characters.
How can you make a character who seems cold and distant relatable to your audience?
Give Them Drive
One approach is to focus on what drives the character.
What are their goals and motivations? Why do they act the way they do? By exploring these questions, you can give your readers a window into the character’s soul, even if they never show their emotions on the surface.
Endear an emotional character to readers by giving them a goal or mission that is sympathetic.
For example, they may be trying to save a loved one from a dire situation, or working towards a greater good.
Give Them Conflict
Another key element is conflict.
Everyone experiences conflict in their lives, even people who seem emotionless on the outside. By depicting your character’s internal struggles, you can help readers see them as human and sympathetic, even if they don’t express their emotions openly.
Ultimately, the key to making an emotionless character likable and relatable is to find ways to make them relatable without relying on emotional displays. If you can find what makes them tick and reveal their inner conflict, you’ll be well on your way to creating a fully realized and sympathetic character.
Show a Softer Side
It can also be helpful to show the softer side of an emotional character, even if they themselves are not aware of it.
This can be done through flashbacks or inner monologues that reveal their hidden emotions. These glimpses into their inner lives will humanize them and make them more relatable to readers.
Give Them Relatable and Likable Actions
There are also times when a character’s actions are not dictated by emotion, but by principles or a sense of duty.
In such cases, the character may be viewed as cold or distant by readers.
However, this does not mean that they are unlikeable or unrelatable. In fact, many readers find such characters to be more likable and relatable than those who are driven by emotions.
This is because we can all relate to making decisions based on principle, even if we don’t always agree with the decisions that are made.
We also appreciate characters who act out of a sense of duty, as it shows that they are reliable and dependable.
Final Thoughts: How To Write an Emotionless Character
I love writing and reading about emotionless characters.
If you like articles about writing, we have a ton more on this site. Browse through a few of them before you go.
- How To Write Morally Gray Characters [Bestseller Secrets Revealed]
- Writing a Character With Down Syndrome (Ultimate Guide)
- How Many Characters Should A Book Have? (Hint: Readers Love at Least 2)
PubMed (Research on Sociopaths)
National Center for Biotechnology Information