5 Tips for Creating a Glass Case of Emotions
I don’t know about you guys, but when I read a book (and especially when someone reads my books), I want it to be all about THE FEELS! But conveying character emotion and prompting a reader’s response is something that can be a slippery little eel to wrangle. So here are my five tricks for conveying emotion in characters:
1. SHOW don’t tell
Hey! I saw that eye roll!
I know, I know: it’s been said before, but nobody explained it quite like Futurama.
EX: I can text my best friend that I’m mad. She’ll likely say: “I’m sorry, feel better soon!” BUT if I start texting her pictures of my face all red and contorted with rage, my eyes shedding tears of fury, then another pic of the paper towel I shredded and then stomped on, I’m not just getting a call from her. I’m getting a knock on my door. And maybe some ice cream. And probably some random e-cards over the next few days filled with memes about pun-making llamas. (I have awesome friends, in case you were wondering.)
I created a response in her because I showed her the depth of my emotion. It’s the same with characters. Show me their gasps for breaths as they struggle to cope. Move their goosebumps from their skin to mine by describing the sensation of blood rushing, ebbing, hairs pulling up on their neck, and that good stuff.
For me, the easiest way to make sure I’m showing instead of telling? Look for filter words: I feel, I see, I hear, I smell. Then revise until I’m not telling you I’m freezing. I’m now frantically searching for a blanket as my teeth chatter and end up putting my crown at risk of falling out from the intensity of the vibration.
2. Address all the senses
Keeping on that anti-filter word train, and hooking directly up with the Show Don’t Tell car, don’t forget that we got five senses to use. Yep, five of ’em. Unless, of course, you’re writing a story where a character doesn’t possess/use/have access to a certain sense, like when I wrote a Deaf heroine. (Which was so fun, and a hell of a learning experience, btw)
Point blank, we don’t just feel emotions in our hearts. And we don’t just show emotions on our faces. In scary movies, the character doesn’t have to tell you they’re scared when they inch forward, hand outstretched toward a door that’s cracked open and shouldn’t be cracked open when no one else is supposed to be in the house and then SLAM! The door swings shut with no explanation except that maybe evil ghosty is implementing a pouty lockout session and now you, and the character, probably need a change of underpants from that sound.
It’s the same thing for novels: show loneliness by drowning in the white noise buzzing of the world that doesn’t care to decipher itself for the character; a bond of friendship or love in the hard grasp of a hand, or a secret brush of a fingertip. The options are endless, but make sure you’re using all the senses available because each one is powerful in its own way.
3. Don’t limit your arsenal to the obvious
Feel free to forget everything I said above, then abandon the scene.