Showing Your Character's Emotions
Let's be fancy and talk about interiority
Interiority is a fancy word with its multiple syllables, but all it really means is a character’s:
Feelings (if you make those separate from emotions),
The question for the writer is how we show all of that to the reader. But before you sigh and think, “Oh, that is so hard!”, maybe remember how cool it is that we get to do that at all. Movie people don’t, right? Well, they do, but they have less tools to do it in screenplays and scripts.
So, let’s get it started. Showing emotion isn’t just about smiles and frowns and shrugs. It’s about the world that feelings and thoughts happen. It’s about the reasons that your character is feeling things.
That’s a huge part of understanding how to write our characters’ insides; we have to remember that the character’s emotions come from reacting
Interiority Equals Reactions
Seriously. Your wife grabs your butt in real life. You’re probably going to react some way. Your dog starts barking. You’re probably going to react some way. We go through life reacting to things.
In books, our characters need to react to things, too. And we have to show those reactions. As writers, we get to pick and choose when those reactions take place, and we should try to make those places and those reactions matter to the character and the plot.
You have a speck of lint on your pajamas on an otherwise normal night? Probably doesn’t matter. You have a speck of lint on your pajamas before you finally get to culminate your 27-year-will-she-won’t-she moment with a person phobic about lint? The reaction is going to matter and you want to show it in the story.
Side note: That above anecdote/example is not from my own personal experience, I promise!
Be specific. Be-be specific.
If you are imagining that above header in the sound of high school cheerleaders chanting, “Be aggressive,” then bingo! You have made it into my brain.
That same anecdote about lint shows how important details and specifics are to the reason why your character is reacting, but specifics are also important about showing those emotions and feelings.
It comes down here to showing vs telling.
Showing is what it sounds like. You are showing what’s happening in the scene or with the character.
Telling is also what it sounds like. You are blunt and direct and are just stating things. Sometimes you’re stating and summarizing.
Here’s an example I use a lot.
Shaun was cranky.
Gabby the dog barked for hours at the dogs trotting by the house that morning and after a quick pause for a drink from her red water bowl in the kitchen, she’d pranced back to the living room sliding glass door and started again.
Shaun tensed. He slammed his fist against his desk and roared, “Will you just shut up already?”
We really see how Shaun is feeling in that second example, right? We feel and understand why. It’s specific. You want to really show the reader why this is happening and why Shaun is feeling this.
There are all kinds of ways to be cranky and all kinds of reasons why, but that one shows it.
I’m going to continue this series next week, but that’s the first step and key to remember: Be specific. Show it, don’t tell it.
And before we go, let me just quickly say why this is important. When a reader dives into your novel or short stories, they want to care about the characters. The way to make them care is to get inside your character’s head and SHOW their emotions. Not just the stomping feet and the frowns, but the true emotion that makes character do those things. That is usually about the character’s yearnings and wants, their goals and also their fears.
We have to be therapists a bit and understand the way different people’s heads work to get that on the page. Or maybe telepathic? Maybe that’s what we have to be, but we definitely have to be something.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION MOMENT
I am teaching another session at the Writing Barn coming up soon, and I’ve forgotten to talk about it!
Here’s the tweet they put out. (I’m that black and white person in the bottom corner, sort of blending in.)
Come at any stage of your publishing journey for the FREE WSS info session on 2/20!
WSS courses guide writers through every aspect of literary life, including submitting. We offer classes for writers of novels, memoirs, and kids lit. Register here: https://thewritingbarn.com/class/write-submit-support-free-info-inspiration-session/
There’s also a free night about it coming up.
Join us from 6-7:30 CST on February 20 for a FREE Write. Submit. Support. Info and Inspiration night.
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