Friday, September 30, 2011

The Nightmare of Show and Tell

My nightmare anyway. We all walk through our lives showing others all manner of telltale ways. Think of all the major emotions we all have. Ha - I just looked up 'emotion' on Wikipedia and there's an awesome list there. I highly recommend you go there and read it. There's a lot of information about emotion you just might find helpful.

These emotions are broken down into six categories - Angry, Sad, Happy, Excited, Tender and Scared. Under each category are seven common emotions. It might not be a bad idea to take note of the words; they might come in handy in some of your writing. Maybe they'll help keep you from getting into a rut for lack of words.

But I digress. For the sake of this post, I'll use these six words.

Angry: You can write something like 'he was so angry he could spit stones' and that would get the message across, but what if you took it a bit further. How would you show that he was angry? Think of the phrase and take a close look at the picture it generates in your head - now write it down.

His face started to go all red and I could see the muscles in his jaw jump and jump, but he wasn't chewing anything. And the way he clenched his fists, one finger at a time, and so tight the muscles on his arms below his rolled up shirtsleeves bulged, I thought he was going to hit me - or something.
What do you think? Does it look like he's about ready to spit stones?

Sad: 'She was so sad, her heart had to be breaking' That's pretty sad, don't you think? But can you feel it? That's what you are trying to do, make your reader feel these emotions. For sadness, the meter I set for myself is to see if I can make myself cry. I've managed it a couple times, but then I'm an easy crier. Still, it's a good gauge to go by.

She sat there, tears running between her fingers to drip off her elbows onto the pale tattered dress she wore. Her face was hidden behind her thin hands. She made no move to stem the tide. She just sat there, her shoulders shaking with every sob; each sob the only breath she took.
Well, I've done better, but I think you get the idea.

Happy: 'She was the happiest she had ever been in her life' This is very generic and you want to avoid that at all costs. Such a state just might be different for every person who ever reads it and could generate a different feeling which just might screw some other things up. Remember to always be specific.

She was smiling so wide I thought all her teeth were going to pop out of her head. Her eyes were brimming with tears. She was hopping up and down, though her feet weren't leaving the ground. It looked as though she was going to burst or just take off into orbit at any moment.
Now that was kinda fun.

Excited: This is very like Happy but we'll see what I can do with it. 'He was so excited about his new gift' I almost said 'job' but though someone might be excited to get a job, I'm thinking it would be lesser that what we're looking for here.

He opened up the present, peeling the paper away with anticipation. When he finally opened the box and saw the contents, he whooped with glee and started jumping around, hugging everyone in the room scarcely taking the time to actually wrap his arms around anyone before spinning around with his treasure and then almost hugging the next person only to go off spinning again.
I don't know; he looks pretty excited to me. What do you think?

Tender: We can calm down a little now. Being tender is a quiet emotion. 'She looked down at the newborn and smiled'. Who doesn't smile when they see a newborn?

She gazed at the newborn as it kicked at air for the first time. She smiled as she watched the baby try to find the finger that seemed to be way too illusive. With a soft chuckle, she gathered the infant to her breast and gently rocked it.
I think that's pretty tender. What do you think?

Scared: We have all felt fear at one time or another, but writing about it, conveying it, might be a little difficult. The reason being, no one wants to remember what it felt like when they were afraid. And yet that is one of the most common things a writer must do. Fear is one of the greatest hooks out there. 'The boy cowered in fear as the monstrous creature stalked by'

He wanted to scream his terror, to call his father, his mother, but he dare not. To make a single sound, to move an inch, would only attract the monster to his hiding place and it wasn't all that great a hiding place. He clenched his lip between his teeth and pulled his coat tighter as if doing so would make him smaller still. He glanced down at his hand; it wasn't shaking - yet. He'd have time for that later - if there was a later.
Eh well, it's more the scenario than the emotion, but sometimes that's all you have. Trying to make your reader fear the problem as much or more than your character does.

So tell me, how would you convey these emotions? Show me please. I'm certainly willing to learn how to do it better. I'm always wanting to learn how to do this better. It's my nemesis. I know, I've said that before about different writing tricks, but this has got to be the biggest.


Leah Griffith said...

These are fabulous Anna! Nice writing...creating such vivid pictures. I'm taking note;)

Anna L. Walls said...

haha - oh my, notes.

baldychaz said...

They are very good examples. I mainly write about fear and pain lol i also dont think about it much. Guess just keep writing and use what feels right to you