Often when I’m writing I find myself sitting at the computer with my face screwed up, squirming in my chair as I try to act out the emotion I’m struggling to put into words. ‘What would they do to show their emotions?’ I think, waving my arms and rubbing my face as my character waits patiently on the page for me to figure out the best way to tell the reader how they feel.
I mean, I could just take the easy route and simply say ‘They felt tired.’ Or sad. Or angry. Or whatever. Which is short and to the point and sometimes all you need. But if you spend your whole book writing this way, you are telling rather than showing (I feel confident that this is the case, but please do correct me if I’m wrong). Sometimes it’s fun to make the reader guess, to throw them clues as to what is happening without actually spelling it out. It brings them into the story with you, helping them to feel what your characters are feeling and become emotionally involved.
The tough thing is to know when to have a character flip their hair or wrinkle their brow or make a huffy noise, or to simply state what they are feeling. An editor pointed out to me that, during long sequences of dialogue, having the characters doing too much of the former can be distracting, so I’ve taken that on board as another lesson learned. The other thing to figure out is how to convey these emotions without reverting to the same phrases over and over, an easy trap to fall into when you’ve finally figured out what you wanted to say.
So I’ve recently discovered a very helpful book. I’m not getting paid to endorse it or anything, I just wanted to share it with all the writers out there who might not already be familiar with it. Called The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackermand and Becca Puglisi (both of whom are writers), it seems to have been written for chair squirmers like me.
It’s so simple and so smart – an alphabetical list of emotions and, below them, a list of the many many ways a character can convey said emotion, divided into physical signals, internal sensations and mental responses, as well as cues for long term, acute and supressed versions of each. I can only imagine the amount of acting out and hair pulling it took to come up with each of these well written and thought out pages of information. Just to add some icing to the cake, each section also has a handy little writer’s tip about using emotion in your work.
Emotions are so much a part of us that, when you actually have to think about how someone might respond to a specific situation, it’s very difficult to get a handle on their ephemeral nature and put it into words. So thank goodness there’s a book to help us out.
PS I’ve just received my revised manuscript of Oak and Mist back from the editor, so I’ll be working on implementing the changes and getting ready to publish over the next few weeks. Cover design is on the way as well, and I’ll be writing several posts about my self publishing experience. Thanks as always for reading xx