Saturday, December 1, 2007

Emotion - Two More Ways to Show It

In my last post, I covered the first three methods of showing emotion—physical responses, action, and dialogue. Today I’ll cover the last two—introspection and analogies which includes poetic devices and using the setting to enhance the mood and emotion.

Introspection is what we call head talk. It’s the thinking process of POV characters, and it’s the one time the reader learns the truth as the character sees it. What we think is open and honest even if we try to cover the truth. It is in our heads in all it’s goodness or rottenness. So introspection is an excellent way to present many pieces of information throughout a novel, but it’s an excellent way to not only show emotion but to explain the "why" of it to readers.

When a character feels hurt or disappointed or upset, the person’s mind will go over the issues that troubles them. The reader can see the depth of the pain or joy that comes from these feelings. Just as thoughts run through your mind daily, so they do with characters, and we share them with the reader when the thoughts make a significant contribution to move the story forward as well as to explain an unknown.

For example, if you have a secret and someone talks about another situation close to your own, you will hid your internal reaction, but you will experience it in your head. Let’s say you are a Christian woman who had an abortion. Now this abortion tears at you, and when you are with someone who is talking about the horror of abortion, the killing of an unborn child, the unforgivable sin of taking a life, you will nod in agreement, but inside you are torn to bits by these comments. If this were a fictitious character, you can see how this revelation will create emotion in the reader.

If you still want to keep the total story a secret, you can have the character nod in agreement, but in her head, you could show her emotion in this way—her past coiled around her like a snake, choking the life from her. This kind of comment would foreshadow or provide the reader with a hint that something similar happened in the character’s life. Perhaps she took a friend to an abortion clinic, perhaps her sister had an abortion, or perhaps she did or thought about it. Which ever is the truth of this secret, the reader will now have something to cling to and to speculate about, and the reader will be eager to delve into the book to learn the truth.

Analogies are another way to bring emotions to life through imagery. Analogies are comparisons of two unlike things that have similarities. A paraphrased definition form the Wikipedia Encyclopedia is: An analogy is the reasoning of transferring information from a particular subject to another particular subject, and in a narrower sense, an analogy is an inference or an argument from a particular to another particular, where at least one of the premises or the conclusion is general.

For example. He watched the waves pounding against the rocks with power and fury, yet making unnoticeable impact on the invincible boulders, and he realized he, too, has been impacted by life in a way that should have destroyed him, but his faith has kept him strong.
Here we see the difference — rocks and life — yet the similarity is clear because life dashes against us and our spirit in the same way a wave crashes against the rocks.

Poetic devices are also used to make similar comparisons. The most common devices are similes and metaphors. A similes uses the word like or as while a metaphor is a comparison without using the word like or as. These devices create word pictures that compare two things with commonalities. For example, Carl Sandburg’s poem Fog: The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on. Obviously fog doesn’t have feet but we see the imagery of a cat who moves quietly and stealthily without being heard and then slinks away. This metaphor also us to see the similarity to the movement and feeling of fog. Not only do we see the image, but we feel something as well. It creates a mood or attitude of loneliness or solitude and thus creates emotion. It draws us inside ourselves to deal with our feelings.

Here’s how a metaphor or simile can work in a novel— The man charged past, his bull frame causing everyone to move out of his way. Again this makes word pictures—images—you can see, but it also creates an attitude which causes an emotion. We can see the bulk of this man charging through a crowd and we don’t like what we see.

The simile makes this clear. Similes are easier to use and more easy to spot. He stalked across the room like a rooster in a hen house. You can see that if you’ve ever seen a rooster with that cocky, "I own this place" attitude. Again this creates an emotion in the reader or in the character as he or she views this man stalking across the room. Fear ripped through him like buckshot. Can you feel the sting of this emotion?

Nature and setting also can create an emotions. The weather or the tone of the day can be a refection of the character’s emotions. The rain plummeted from the sky flattening the flowers against the earth just as his words had tossed her self-image to the ground. Or She beat her fist against the locked door, wishing someone would beat against her heart to force it open and rid of her fears. In each case we can see the emotion clearly through the images we paint by using the setting.

Use introspection to bring the truth to readers and to show and explain the character’s emotion, and be creative as you use poetic devices and word pictures or imagery to bring your emotions to life.

Remember these important points about emotions:
They are complex
They are vital to creating compelling characters
They are most effective when the reader knows the character first
They must be felt
They must be shown

My next topic will be on birthing characters but I would also love to hear from you. Tell me what you're most interested in learning about.


Sandra said...

I find the challenge in using metaphors or similes is coming up with fresh ones (not cliches like the rooster in the hen house). The best advice I've received on this topic is to think about what my characters know (ex. their occupation, hobbies, location) and draw metaphors from those places because those would be in the thoughts of my characters. If we're writing in the heroine's POV the metaphor would be related to her sphere and likewise for the hero. So if our heroine grew up on a farm the rooster in the hen house thought will be appropos.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Sandra - And that's what I get for writing an example off the top of my head while being in a hurry. You're absolutely correct. The secret of good similes and metaphors or any kind of comparison is to be fresh and creative. I often tie the comparison into the interest, hobby or occupation of my characters. In this case, I was grabbing a trite example, even if she grew up in a farm environment. That phrase is trite.

Thanks for dropping by. I hope you've found some helpful ideas.