A Practical Use of Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Robert Plutchik created his Wheel of Emotions in the 1980’s. But how on earth can anyone use it?

Many online references tend to show an image of ‘the wheel,’ give a history of how it came to be, say a few words about Robert Plutchik and then leave you wondering how you can use it.

In this post, I aim to demonstrate an example of one use at least. My case will explore how a writer may use Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions to help plan the writing of a book.

Before that full example, here is an App that shows another use. I am not sure of its accuracy, but it’s a fun feature to possibly work out your personality type with reference to color:

(You Can Share Your Result On Your Favorite Social Network)


The above test is indeed entertaining, and there’s nothing wrong with being entertained :)

Moving on to another use of Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, I promised at the start of this post that I’d give an example of a practical example.

To provide you with my example, I first need to give you the basics of how to interpret Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. I’ll take it steady and make it easy…

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions:



I think that the best way to explain the diagram above and to make it immediately understandable is to pick on one point and tell it from there.

Let’s look at the very top of the image first. At the very top, you’ll see a yellow ‘flower petal,’ and the very top pale yellow part has no writing inside it. Moving down that yellow petal, you can see that it becomes darker yellow and the next section contains the word: “serenity.” You can then follow the petal down to joy, then finally in the yellow area, we see: “ecstasy” at the center.

The most central words (ecstasy in the yellow example), are the eight basic emotions according to Robert Plutchik.

The outermost layer contains the lesser emotions, and then working towards the central eight segments reaches the eight most basic and strongest emotions.

One final observation to note regarding the color wheel itself, and that is to notice the white areas between the colored petals. In those white areas, there are also emotions listed. For example the white space between the yellow and green petals shows the word: ‘love.’  The words in the white areas denote overlaps where the two sets of emotions can form to become the emotion in the white area. Thus, two people experiencing the emotions of Joy + admiration toward each other could ultimately turn in to Love (white area word)

Here is the diagram once again, to save you having to scroll up all the time:


Back at the start of this post I promised to give you an example of a writer wanting to use Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions to help plan the writing of a book.

The writer has already written down a basic outline of her book, and here’s how her initial plan looks so far:

  1. The story opens with a description of a street in Paris (5 am). The previous night’s rain has left the narrow, cobbled street wet and the cobblestones reflect the lights from the ornate street lamps.
  2. Describe the main character, Kate, who left the UK 4 years previously to live in France to pursue her career as a journalist.
  3. Next, describe the male character, Édouard Leveque. He becomes Kate’s friend (carefully planned by him.)
  4. Write a chapter about Kate’s latest story for the newspaper. She has been trying to re-open an unsolved murder case that took place nine years previously and had become a cold case with the police.
  5. Write a good description of how Édouard Leveque meets Kate, and how well they get on with each other. She gets to know him very well, and it appears that he’d like to help her investigate her story so that she could spend more time writing, rather than researching.
  6. Kate and Édouard become lovers, and she trusts him deeply.
  7. The story takes a sudden and frightening turn when Kate discovers documents in an old suitcase in Édouard’s apartment while he is out.
  8. Kate keeps quiet about finding the documents, but later that evening Édouard see’s that his suitcase has been moved and he knows who has moved it.
  9. The next chapter sees Kate secretly researching Édouard’s life, and she becomes convinced that he was responsible for the murder she had been investigating all along. Kate also realizes that her relationship with Édouard was no accidental meeting and she knows that Édouard set up the entire relationship to try to keep her off his trail. Might Kate herself by the next victim?
  10. In the following chapter, Édouard plans a wine tasting weekend for them both. In this chapter, Kate’s worst nightmare’s come true, and the story takes our two main characters through dark underground corridors resembling a labyrinth. Kate makes her escape when Édouard tries to strangle her. Édouard knows the tunnels far better than she does and a tense underground cat and mouse chase ensues.
  11. The story ends with an exhausting struggle and Kate seems sure to be killed. The end comes when Kate, almost at her last breath, grabs a rope to stop herself falling to the ground and the line is securing a tower of wine barrels. Édouard is killed from the barrels toppling on to him.

So How Can Our Author Use Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions To Help Her Set The Scenes In This Story?

Our author, like all authors, want to direct the emotions that the readers experience when they read the book. They want to have transitions of emotions so that the reader feels those changes in emotional moods as the story starts, makes progress and then ends. The story will be more powerful if the reader’s emotions can be stirred.

The Start of The Story:

The author brings in the main character, Kate. Kate moved to Paris to improve her career prospects. Our author can use the Orange and Yellow petals of the color wheel to concentrate on Kate’s positive emotions about moving to Paris. These colors point to optimism, interest, anticipation, and joy.

One important point to note about the color wheel is that the color opposite any color represents the opposite emotion. Example: The color opposite yellow, is blue. Our author can also use this fact to include conflicting or contrasting emotions that Kate may have about her move to Paris. Kate may feel Joy about her progress, but may also feel sadness regarding leaving her home in the UK.

Kate’s Initial Research Into The Murder:

When Kate begins her initial research into the murder that took place nine years ago, Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions could indicate to our author that writing about her interest in the crime and that leading to distraction (the opposite color). Kate could become distracted by everything else in her life as she gets deeper into the facts. Then Kate could show surprise at the events that she uncovers. All these emotions can lead to Kate’s vigilance as she becomes more intense in her quest to unearth the truth.

The Relationship Between Kate and Édouard:

When using Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions to describe a relationship between two people, the color wheel can become very interesting! It is rare that only one or two petals will come in to play.

At first, there may be interest, then possibly joy. If the relationship develops positively, then new emotions may evolve such as trust, admiration and perhaps ecstasy. Our author can write about all these emotions to build the readers interest more deeply.

In the relationship between Kate and Édouard, the initial signs all proved to be false, and the emotions then take a turn for the worst. Our author then can write about the feelings of apprehension, fear, terror, annoyance, anger, and rage.

The Ending of The Story:

The conclusion to the story see’s Kate as the victor. Kate, however, will have many emotions and these are likely to be very mixed. Kate may have feelings of sadness, disgust, anger, loathing, and grief.

To Conclude, Here Is An Excellent Infographic Covering Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Click to Enlarge.)


Robert Plutchik

From Visually.


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