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Monday, May 21, 2007

Emotions – show, don’t tell, part one

Writing emotions is very closely linked to other factors:

--the words you use

--character personality

--point of view

Because emotions are meshed with these other aspects, often a writer will hear the infamous “show, don’t tell” and yet not understand what exactly it means.

Setup: John has just kissed Sally.

She thrust him away.

She stared at him a long moment. First she felt confused. Why had he done that? Then, like a fingersnap, she was in denial. It probably meant nothing to him.


Camy here:

First, don’t use “she felt” or anything like that—she saw, she heard, etc.—because it distances the reader from the character.

Second, try not to use the words of the emotions—confusion, denial.

Instead of writing “she felt confused,” show the reader how confused she is. Instead of informing the reader she was in denial, show what she’s denying and why.

She thrust him away.

She stared at him a long moment. Why had he done that? Did he love her? He’d just met her—how could he love her? And she didn’t love him, did she? Was that gurgling in her stomach love or the potroast she’d had for dinner? Love shouldn’t feel like overdone beef, right?

No, of course he didn’t love her. And that made her very … happy. Okay, not exactly happy. Relieved. She was relieved. And she didn’t care for him at all. That tingling in her hands was just early onset of arthritis. And her heart pounded because she’d been surprised, that’s all.


Not only does the reader see her confusion and her denial, but the reader gets a better understanding of her personality.

Next: How point of view makes a difference.
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