Thursday, November 29, 2007

Emotions - How We Show Them To Readers

Our characters can experience numerous emotions, but for emotions to make an impact, they need to come to life so that the reader sees them and feels them too. My last blog described steps to apply emotions to your novels, and today, I’ll cover the five ways to show emotions to the reader. Remember show not tell is a novelists motto. The five ways to help you show emotion are: physical responses, including facial expressions and body movements, reactions, dialogue, introspection, and using analogies—poetic devices and setting descriptions that reflect mood and emotion.

Physical Responses: Our bodies respond physically to emotion. Tension affects our blood pressure and heart rate. Our vocal cords tense. We perspire, flush, pale, get dizzy. Our heart s race, and blood pounds in our temples,. Sometimes our cheek tics, or we press our lips together until they turn white. Our eyes can become bloodshot. We might squint or our eyes will widen in fear. Our bodies become rigid, and we make fists. Every emotion affects us physically. Romantic love causes our hearts to flutter or palpitate. We feel giddy or breathless, and on and on. So when we show emotions, we can show these physical reactions. Remember that the POV character will feel his chest tighten or his stomach churn while the non-POV character can only see outward responses, such as trembling hands or a flush.

Action/Reaction: Slamming doors, stomping feet, flinging a pillow , throwing knife, swinging a fist, pounding a chest, all of these are expressions of various emotions. We show the emotion when we allow our characters to act and react in ways that exemplify the real life ways we behave under various kinds of emotion. A kiss or embrace shows love or passion. A fist pounding on a table shows anger or determination or a blend of these. As you write, use words that fit the emotion. He poked a knife toward her. He jabbed a knife toward her. Notice that "He jabbed" is stronger than he poked. Poked could be a playful action when character teases another when he tries to tell her what to do in a kitchen. The action words we select help to create the emotion. He slithered across the floor. He crept across the floor. He wiggled across the floor. See the difference? Which sounds more sinister and which more playful? Our word selection is vital to creating the mood and emotion of a scene.

Dialogue: Dialogue speaks for itself. Pun intended, but you’ll find a truth behind it. Dialogue should incorporate the drama of the scene without using tags and punctuation to make sure the reader gets it. "I’m so frightened! I don’t know what to do," she sobbed. "Stop!" he shouted.

Let’s look at those two sentences and see what’s wrong. First, cut the exclamation point. They’re for exclamations only. If the words I’m so frightened doesn’t express the emotion, then do something to make it that way. "I know he’s shrouded out there in the dark, waiting for me, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t breathe. I can’t move." Can you see the emotion in this scene? It doesn’t need an exclamation point. It doesn’t need a "she sobbed" either. It’s difficult to sob or laugh or chuckle and talk at the same time so that would tag would need some clarification. The second sentence is an exclamation. "Stop!" The exclamation point already indicates the statement is shouted so the tag is redundant and totally unnecessary.

Exclamation points are for words like Wow!, Help!, Stop! and other single word phrases that express excitement. You can do away with them totally if you set up the scene. For example, He darted from the house, racing toward the culprit. "Stop." His voice pierced the night sky. This does it without the explanation mark and does it more dramatically.

The word "sounds" we chose in dialogue and in narration help to create mood and emotion. Dialogue or narration in scenes that are tense or fast-paced uses shorter sentences and hard cutting sounds. Hard sounds are consonants like p, t, c, k, q, d, g. Make the sound of these letters and not their names. You’ll hear the sharper sounds. Here’s an example: I’ll kill you, you poisonous snake. You rat. Hit the road. Don’t come poking around again. Notice the short sentences, the sounds of k, p, k, t, d, c and g. Say the sentence aloud and feel the bitting tones. The letter s makes a hissing snake noise so that is also affective in this sentence.

The opposite sounds are used for the slower thoughtful, nostalgic, or romantic scenes. These sentences are usually longer with a lilting, more soft sound than the scenes with tension. The softer letters are vowels plus m, n, l, v, f, h, and w, for examples. Read this sentence aloud. The words I love you whispered above her hair as she lay in his arms. In this longer sentence, you feel the w, l, v, wh, and numerous vowel sounds that create a more tender sound.

These sounds can be used in alliterative patterns as well which accentuates the mood. Alliterative refers to more than one word together using the same sounds. Terrifying tapping and pistol pointed presents a pounding accent to the words while mellow moon and lilting lullaby create a more soothing feel to the sentence.

The next blog will cover the last two methods of showing emotion in your writing: Introspection and analogies or setting. As you know, not every sentence can be written using these techniques, but chose the ones that are most significant and work to create the kinds of sounds that will heighten the mood and emotion for your reader.

1 comment:

Jack said...

Thank you. These are clear and I can see them to be effective already! For a new writer it is crucial to know such things. I await the next part,

jacqueline