Because I was so shy, insecurity strangled my emotions more often than not. I would hear my lines coming out flatter than the stage I stood on, and it bothered me, but at the time I didn't know how to fix it. My drama coach did. That's why she was the coach and I was the player. She coached me when I needed it.
There was one day I still remember quite clearly, when I was having an especially rough day at school (senior year was not one of my high school favorites--but that's another story for another day), and I didn't want to be at rehearsal that day. It was one of those days I felt empty, not just broken. From somewhere in the auditorium seating my coach kept shouting for me to speak up, she couldn't hear me. And when she could hear me, the real problem became obvious.
We took a break. She pulled me aside. She asked me what I was feeling in that moment.
Nothing, I said. Or maybe I said nothing. I don't remember which, but it's the same thing.
She told me I hadn't missed any lines, but my lines were missing everything.
You can't just recite them, she said. You must live them. Every line spoken comes first from an emotion. They aren't just words, they're feelings. She gave me a few minutes alone to recite the scene in my head and figure out where those words were coming from inside my character.
I knew I should be doing this. It's a basic element of acting. But I needed the reminder that day.
Then we did the scene again. I could feel the difference, but was certain I was still doing it wrong, because everyone was so quiet afterward. The drama coach said we were done for the day. She told me good job, keep it up. The other cast members said good job too, but we always said that to each other. We had a camaraderie like that.
I didn't realize how much better I'd actually performed until someone came up to me that I'd never met before. He was an underclassman who worked on the stage crew. I never even saw him at rehearsals because he was always in the lightbox. To this day, I still can't remember his name, but I do remember something more significant.
His reaction to what he'd seen me do that day.
He was a freshman who worked crew and I was a senior who was the lead in the play. I intimidated him, even though, offstage, I was just as shy and insecure as he was. He didn't know that. It took a lot for him to do what he did, and I am so glad he did it, because from that day forward I used his reaction as a motivator to keep the right mindset while performing.
After the stage had cleared, I sat on the edge of it, my legs dangling down like a little girl, looking out at the empty auditorium, dreading the ever-approaching opening night that I was surely going to bomb. And this gangly fifteen year-old boy with a set of ginormous headphones cradling his neck, looping a fat black wire between the crook of his thumb and the bend of his elbow, walks out of the lightbox, right up to me, and says,
"That was pretty amazing."
"Yeah. You made me cry a little."
"It's okay. It was good."
Crying was the right reaction. It was that kind of scene. His tears made me smile.
Every time I felt the spotlight on me after that, I heard him say in my head, "It's okay. It was good," and imagined him trying to wipe his eyes without screwing up the stage lights.
The point of all of this is that your audience/reader WANTS to feel what the characters are feeling, because when they do, "it's good." If they cry when they're supposed to cry and laugh when they're supposed to laugh, get angry when they're supposed to get angry, etc, etc, etc, the story resonates. And they will not feel that unless you, the author, feel those emotions when you write the performance.
You can't just spew words onto the page. You must live them. You must know where they are coming from inside the character before they are born into the scene. So ANY time you write ANY action or dialogue from ANY character, even if it is not a viewpoint character--anyone who is in that scene--ask yourself, "What are you feeling in this moment?"
Because if it isn't first there inside you, you can't release it into your story.