As writers one thing we are often told is show, don’t tell. I mostly agree with this, but I also think there are certain times when telling works well (gasp!). Read: There may be another blog post on this in the future.
However, today I’m going to focus on the showing side of things, and give you some (hopefully) helpful tips on how to show effectively, specifically when it comes to character emotions.
One thing I get frustrated with is when a narrator tells me how someone is looking.
“She looked scared.”
“He looked angry.”
“She looked tired.”
It’s all good an well that I’ve been told this—and I do like to think I have a good enough imagination to picture someone looking scared, angry, or tired—but I also like the narrator to show me how the character is feeling this way.
And here’s why …
There are many ways we feel emotion, and because writers consider our characters to be real people (yes, they are), the characters should feel emotions differently from one character to the next. The way the narrator shows us how their character feels is what sets them apart from each other, and makes them individuals. The character’s responses to emotional situations form a big part of their personality, and character development.
For example, you could have three characters fighting until the death, all of them looking scared, but they should all react to the situation differently.
One character might widen her eyes and flail her arms about, screaming. Another might tremble, and chew on the side of her thumb. And if you have a hero-centric male around, he might stand tall to protect his girlfriend, but back away slowly while big sweaty patches appear on his T-shirt.
The same goes for all the other emotions.
So, don’t tell your audience how your character is looking, show them how they’re reacting to their emotions and the situation. We can learn a lot about a character based on their emotional responses.
A great resource for how to show and communicate emotion is The Emotion Thesaurus. Do you have any others you like to use?
K. A. Last likes emotional reads. She is the YA author of Sacrifice, Fall For Me, Fight For Me, and Immagica. She drinks lots of tea, is obsessed with Buffy, and loves all things purple (it used to be pink). K. A. Last hangs out on Facebook or you can find her on twitter and Goodreads. She’s also been known to blog once in a while.