Writing emotions is a challenge I am trying to conquer. :)

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Woollybear

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Occasionally I mention that one of my favorite authors is Marion Zimmer Bradley, who won awards for The Mists of Avalon and wrote a long series of books set on a world with telepathic humans and many alien races and star ships. MZB passed away some years back, and there is some controversy over her personal life which you can read about elsewhere. Regarding her writing, it is impossible for me to pick up a book of hers and not find craft-level gems within it.

I'm re-reading one of her later books as a pleasure-read (Exile's Song) and while it's not her best work it'll do, and I'm still amazed at all the useful tips within, the tools she had in her toolkit. Basically, she had built an amazing toolkit to draw from.

OK. Separate to all of that, elsewhere, we were chatting about show/tell and how to write emotion into the page without telling and the role of interiority and all that, and how do you pull off writing emotion without telling? It has been a struggle for me to get the emotional cues onto the page. This is a challenge I must conquer. My goal is to include an emotional cue in my current project at least once every 80-100 words. This feels impossible to me, but it is the benchmark set in The Best-seller's Code so I figure it's what I'll try to hit.

How to place an emotional cue in every 80-100 words? Surely it con't be done!

Imagine my delight last night to see six emotional cues in the following 100 words somewhere in the middle of Exile's Song:

Margaret turned and looked at his triumphant expression in disbelief as rain began to pour down on them. "So what are you planning? Are you going to try to rape me?" She could not keep the disdain from her voice, nor the anger. If she had been on foot, she would have used the self-defense techniques she had learned at University, but horseback was no place for that. She struggled to contain her emotions. Dorilys tossed her head and danced, jerking away so that Gabriel lost his hold on Margaret's arm.

The man gave a gasp, and all the color faded from his face. "Of course not." He looked horrified, as if he had just realized how his actions might be construed.

There's a lot more going on in those words--bolstering the 'inner journey' with actions, internal debate, and setting and so on. But I had to simply sit back and take notice of all the lovely emotions running through. And I thought I'd share it here in case anyone has other tricks and tips and thoughts.

Have a lovely Thursday, lovelies.
 
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lizmonster

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Yeah, I think writing about emotion is a good topic, but I'd rather lean on a different author for examples. (I make myself cry sometimes; does that count?)
 

Woollybear

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I'm happy to see other authors and their devices brought in to the discussion. It's a real challenge for me and always feels like it borders on too tell-y.

Gimme the tools for the toolkit, baby!
 

lizmonster

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I don't know if there's a good way to talk about the process of something like this. I think "show, don't tell" is unfortunate advice, because telling a story involves both showing and telling - it's balance. I think the phrase gets thrown around like "don't write prologues" or "never use adverbs" because it's something that newer writers tend to struggle with.

Realistically, I think it's like every other part of a book: you need to write and revise until it does what you want.

For myself, I don't have any particular tricks about writing emotional scenes, at least not that I can really explain. I use a lot of association - things a character thinks in response to an event. And I use phrases like "felt guilty" or "looked confused" or "was surprised," when they're needed.

And I revise my drafts. A lot. :)
 

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Ah, MZB. I got my first two rejection letters from her, back in the nineties... before I found out about all the things that would put her on my short but bitter Goddammit I Am So Disappointed In You I Can't EVEN list. *sigh*

Regarding emotions, I agree with lizmonster that as always there are no hard and fast rules. In my own work, I've found showing-not-telling often unnecessarily complicates a passage where I could get the same effect by saying "He was furious." Simple, straightforward emotions usually call for simple, straightforward telling.

But the more complicated the emotion, the more likely straightforward telling is to trip me up. When I get to the point of writing something like "he looked furious but also proud with an undertone of desperate fear shadowed by...." it's time to back my butt out of there and take the long way around.

This often doesn't involve talking about emotions at all. Take this passage from Lois McMaster Bujold's Komarr the finale of a breakup scene in which the female lead's soon-to-be-ex-husband has accused her of cheating, claimed she only cared about money, threatened to commit suicide, and finally thrown her prized houseplant off the balcony before storming off:

Every muscle of her body seemed to be spasming with tension. She felt close to vomiting. She returned to her -- to the kitchen, and drank a glass of water, which helped settle her breathing and her stomach. She went to her workroom to fetch a basket and some plastic sheeting and a trowel, to go scrape the mess off the walkway five floors down.

Bujold doesn't talk about emotions at all in this. She has the character describe purely physical sensations (muscles spasming, nausea) that we associate with extreme stress, and lets us draw our own conclusions. She shows the main character doing mundane things, things she would not normally notice, and that underlines and emphasizes how shaken she is. And there's that little "to her -- to the kitchen" stutter, as she remembers: this is the life she is leaving. It's understated, as Bujold's writing usually is, but for me at least extremely effective in conveying the feel of someone under killing strain.

Another favorite of mine, from the end of Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, when Moist comes up with his wonderful, terrible plan while shaving:

"You Have Cut Yourself, Mr. Lipvig," said Mr. Pump. "Mr. Lipvig?"

Shame I missed my throat, Moist thought. But that was a secondary thought, edging past the big dark one now unfolding in the mirror.

Look into the abyss and you'll see something growing, reaching towards the light. It whispered: Do this. This will work. Trust me.

Oh, boy. It's a plan that will work, Moist thought. It's simple and deadly, like a razor. But it'd need an unprincipled man to even think about it.

No problem there, then.

I'll kill you, Mr. Gilt. I'll kill you in our special way, the way of the weasel and cheat and liar. I'll take away everything
but your life. I'll take away your money, your reputation, and your friends. I'll spin words around you until you're cocooned in them. I'll leave you nothing, not even hope...

He carefully finished shaving, and wiped the remnant of the foam off his chin. There was not, in truth, that much blood.

Again -- this is a purely show scene, big emotions combined with the very mundane action of shaving, and for me at least, incredibly effective in showing Moist's basic conflict: he's a con man, a complete bastard, but he's really, terribly good at it. That's not something you can easily capture with "thoughtful" or "guilty".

Now if only I could reliably tell when I need the easy road, and when I need the complicated one... oh, well. There's always the next draft, I guess. :D
 

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Woollybear I'm really not sure why this is behind a password. You're restricting your responses because you've vastly reduced the members who will see the thread.

Unless you have a compelling reason for needing a password, I'm moving the thread to Roundtable, where it's an excellent fit. This is an issue that many writers share.
 

Woollybear

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Thank you Admin!

I am never sure where to put any particular topic, heheh.

Katfeete--those are great examples. I've read and reread them last night and today, and they are a great examples of strong words carrying the day.Spasm, vomit, shame, razor--The qualifiers are superlative ...'every,' 'everything'... I think one part of injecting emotion is drawing those sharp contrasts, not using weasel words or softening modifiers but using the direct lines. I think that's what I'd distill out of those examples, for my toolbox--use strong words when punching emotion. (nuance being a separate tool, ha!)

Liz--Yeah... drafting. Right on. I think you're on to something, to identify the emotional beats/arc/etc first, and then be open to massaging the words in a subsequent draft.

~~~~

I think my first efforts at writing fiction, from the background of science, was too journalistic. Flat and dry. So, this challenge to conquer!

A couple of the tools I've got in my box (from reading various authors) are:

1. Use the emotion as the subject of the sentence, doing a thing to the protagonist.

Despair flooded her.

Rage throttled his reason.

2. Using more than one emotion, mixed together or in conflict with one another.

Caught between reluctance and curiosity, she hesitated.

Satisfaction at seeing him fail warred with an underlying sense of compassion that said no human should suffer as he did now.

3. Simple adverbial qualifiers. Occasionally, they do the job.

Tearfully, she turned to leave.

4. Long involved passages; deep dives into the moment ripe with memory and action and contextualization. That's more style that tool, but it's an idea that belongs--arguably one of the more important skills to work on because it is harder and usually involves getting more 'internal.'

5. Comparing one's emotional state to another person... or to another time.

Any other day it might anger her, but today she felt only relief.

Some books I pick up 'show' in a way that leaves me feeling emotionally blank while reading them, and I suppose I want to avoid this as best I can. I agree that telling (and doing so effectively) is part of the game. These tricks I'm after aren't anything more than that--ways to get the emotional context into words. The longer passages are more moving, more sweeping. It's a complex topic, at least to me.
 
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Ari Meermans

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I'll hazard a guess here that you're asking the wrong question. I say this because I've noticed a propensity to focus more on the mechanics of writing rather than the goal for writing the story in the first place. Beyond the bits and pieces of originally good writing advice—which has been reduced to quick three- or four-word phrases such as "Show, don't tell" and taken far more literally than intended in the context of the original advice—is the novelist's goal for telling the story. What is your goal? Define that, then look for the tools to help you accomplish it.

Donald Maass defines that goal in his book The Emotional Craft of Fiction: Writing the Story Beneath the Surface as the creation of an emotional response in the reader and I agree with him. The books I return to time and again as old friends, my best-loved books if you will, are those that caused me to feel something. It may have been what the novelist intended or felt themselves while they were writing or it may have been through an emotional identification with the MC, but most likely it was neither. It was my own emotional response. We often say no two readers read the same novel and that's exactly why—our emotional responses are different.

So, if your goal is to make your novel a meaningful and memorable reading experience for your readers, you just might want to check into Mr. Maass's book to see how it can help you accomplish that.
 
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Woollybear

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Definitely mechanistic, and the book recommendation is a great one. (I own a beloved dog-eared and marked-up copy.)

I suppose the mechanistic angle is where my focus is, though, at the moment. Some of my drafts are purely mechanistic. ('vary sentence structure.' 'reduce dialog tags.' etc.) I write in an iterative way. This is probably part of the individuality we hear about, amongst writers.

Imagine the sentences:

She took the man in her arms and hugged him, hard. There was less of him under the heavy woolen coat than last summer. He had lost weight.

^^That's got action and a smidge of interiority and some description, so those are some of the mechanics of the construction. But there is no clue up there about how she feels about the guy being thinner. Relieved? Worried? Something else? In my mind, her emotion is clear. But I forgot to give a cue. And to a critique partner, they sometimes feel they have to guess what the woman feels.

I've read (from other writers) whole chapters (or manuscripts) written this way--and it feels off. Flat.
 
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micahkolding

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I'm a fan of expressing emotions without calling them by name. Emotions are abstract things, after all, and I think readers respond more viscerally when you evoke feelings rather than identify them. Here are some strategies I like to use:

Similes and metaphors; bonus points if they don't really stand up to logical scrutiny. "I felt like somebody was scratching a chalkboard with my own coffin nails."

Very specific experiences. "I had that sense you get when your crush dares you to jump into the lake naked."

Anything that makes readers think about anatomy. "My mouth dropped open so that my stomach could jump into my throat and see what the hell was going on."

Colorful emotional leakage. "He looked very intent on wrapping his hands around an imaginary throat in front of him, but not so much that a convenient flesh-and-blood entity wouldn't be a welcome substitute."

Nonsense. "The news was so good, I'm pretty sure I burnt 500 calories just listening to it."
 

lizmonster

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She took the man in her arms and hugged him, hard. There was less of him under the heavy woolen coat than last summer. He had lost weight.


I think the problem with this is - as you pointed out - there's no context for the observation. How are we supposed to know how she feels about his skinniness? Without another cue, it's like a snapshot without capturing the subject's expression. (I think visually; can you tell? :))

I've noticed I have a tendency to use contradiction (for example, in my current MS, I've got a character thinking "I should be afraid of all of it" to emphasize that she's not, in fact, afraid). As often as not, my editor would tell me to add more detail. I think how spare you can be is really subjective. I've read some award-winning books that have left me absolutely cold.
 

TeresaRose

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In regards to "Show, don't tell," I totally agree with lizmonster. You want to make your scene clear, and sometimes that involves both showing and telling.
 

JJ Litke

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I love how this page shows some before/after development of lines. It’s a little simplified; it’s not as if using these specific words is always bad or getting rid of them automatically makes writing better. But the given examples are pretty good demos of revision.

Like someone else said, I tend to avoid putting a name to emotions and try to show feelings through action and dialogue. If you don’t mind, I’ll take a crack at how I might develop your example. The first is the original, then two variations.

She took the man in her arms and hugged him, hard. There was less of him under the heavy woolen coat than last summer. He had lost weight.

She took the man in her arms and hugged him. There was less of him under the heavy woolen coat than last summer, his shoulder blades so thin and sharp they risked cutting through his coat. She squeezed her eyes to hold back tears. How much time did they have left?

She took the man in her arms and hugged him. There was less of him under the heavy woolen coat than last summer. He slid his hand up to the back of her neck, his muscular arms tightening around her. She could get used to this.

Those aren’t great, but they both give an indication of what she’s feeling. Also something about what kind of weight loss he’s gone through without pointedly saying that he’d lost weight.

I’m not sure this is really the kind of help or feedback you’re looking for, but the link is good, at least.
 

ap123

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Hey Woollybear :)

I'm with JJ here, when you want to deepen the emotions don't name/tag them, spell out the thoughts that come up for *this* character in *this* story. How skinny is he, and who is she?
Does the feel of his bones make her want to hold him closer or push away? Is she a doctor, or a nurse, or someone experienced with diabetes where she might notice the specific, fruity kind of smell of ketones? Is she a nurturer, who's cataloging what she might have in her jacket pocket to feed him the moment she feels the sharpness of his bones? Is she someone with a past where she's experienced hunger, and the change in his body gives her panic that she too won't get enough to eat? A love interest, who's either turned off or charged by his new shape?

Now what does she say? Is she a straight shooter, "Damn, you're skinny!" Maybe, "Well, look at you, six-pack abs and everything." Or, if he's very frail/she doesn't want to name it, "Are you up for a walk back to my place, I've got dinner ready, enough to share."

The description of the moment should illustrate not only him, but tell us more about her, based on what she does/doesn't notice, does/doesn't say, and then lead us to the next. Maybe he's lost weight because he's been on the run, and showing up in front of her means either she's about to be on the run too (so she right away starts planning, or knows it's time to grab that emergency backpack she's had tucked away for two years), or maybe she's afraid the authorities will show up next, looking for him. Maybe him showing up all buff has her wondering how she'll spend the afternoon without her husband finding out.

The point is that original bit
She took the man in her arms and hugged him, hard. There was less of him under the heavy woolen coat than last summer. He had lost weight.
can be indicative of countless possibilities, the right details to choose should sprout from the character you've created and know better than anyone.
 

Woollybear

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Good morning all!

In regards to "Show, don't tell," I totally agree with lizmonster. You want to make your scene clear, and sometimes that involves both showing and telling.

Thank you for popping in. It makes me happy to see input on this discussion.

Yes, showing and telling are both good. One of the things I drew from The emotional craft of fiction was the idea that showing is the outer journey and telling is the inner journey. A good book has outer and inner both. I also liked that Maass made the point of 'effective' showing and 'effective' telling (an early example/exercise he has for effective telling --the inner journey-- is to find the third-level emotion. Something good happens... Sam and Dean kill the nest of vampires easily -- and Sam 'is happy'; first level. 'Is relieved' might also be going on, second level. 'Is suddenly worried' ... why was that vamp nest so easy to kill? might be third level. Highlighting the third level emotion is more intriguing.)

I love how this page shows some before/after development of lines. It’s a little simplified; it’s not as if using these specific words is always bad or getting rid of them automatically makes writing better. But the given examples are pretty good demos of revision.

Like someone else said, I tend to avoid putting a name to emotions and try to show feelings through action and dialogue. If you don’t mind, I’ll take a crack at how I might develop your example. The first is the original, then two variations.

Hello JJ! I love your two developments. I feel I am connecting with fellow writers here, by reading them. :)

If my benchmark is four emotional cues per page (one per ~ eighty words; this benchmark comes from The bestseller code which I've not read but came up at multiple online cons this year) then 'trembling lips' and 'moist eyes' and the like, I think, ('knees buckling,' from the link) count toward that. They are simple cues to indicate an emotional progression. Or hell, that there *is* emotion; our hero is not an android. :) They are definitely shows, not tells, as they are more cinematic, and that takes the narrative toward 'outer mode' from an effective tell which is 'inner mode.' On the other hand, you bolster with an inner tell (a good thing) with the final sentence in each of your reworks. Those are clearly interior thoughts.

So I draw the following tool for my kit: #6: Use a diagnostic show ('symptomology,' the body doing a 'thing;' outer mode according to Maass) followed by an interior beat, without naming an emotion.

I'd say that feedback gets at the purpose, here.

I'm with JJ here, when you want to deepen the emotions don't name/tag them, spell out the thoughts that come up for *this* character in *this* story. How skinny is he, and who is she?
Does the feel of his bones make her want to hold him closer or push away? Is she a doctor, or a nurse, or someone experienced with diabetes where she might notice the specific, fruity kind of smell of ketones?

Hello APS! Joy fills my heart to see you today. :) 2020 is almost over, my dear!!!!

Yes, your input follows nicely from JJ's. You've done great things with the prompt, as well.

I mused over distinctions between literary and genre as I stretched under the sheets this morning. I wondered, in a relaxed sort of way, if the style adopted by any particular author is guided in part by genre as well (thriller and suspense perhaps using more of the tighter, more effective tells and fewer of the longer effective shows). I decided--with a quick sense of satisfaction--that it probably does, to some degree. :)

I also found tip#7 during my reading last night, which is similar to tip #1 a few posts up (that one, is to use the emotion as the subject of the sentence.).

#7: Use the emotional cue as the verb of the sentence. It angered/satisfied/relieved/confused her. (It is a simple idea, but for a plotter like me, it is a useful idea.)

Being a plotter, my stories start out with plot. Plot, plot, plot. Being a (mechanically-minded) rewriter, various tools get pulled out during redrafts. Between drafts three and four I integrated maybe a dozen of the longer Donald Maass style exercises, and those really helped pull the rough edges off the storyline. The biggest gem so far, this time around, was Maass's chapter on what to do in a chapter in which nothing is happening. If the plot is not progressing (imagine my horror!) then character emotion must progress. A chapter can 'do nothing' if the viewpoint character is changing internally (the inner journey). So, I reworked a chapter in which 'nothing happened' externally to be all about what was changing inside the character, how she shifts her priorities and why. Now the chapter works.

Sometimes I play a game where I flip books randomly to pages to see how a range of examples stack up. The game is to see if the first paragraph (or sentence) I land on 'does' the thing I'm working on (in this case, cuing emotion to the reader, as that bestseller book talks about doing.) It's the data scientist in me. Here some results from page flips from a few books sitting on my desk.

Transmigrations (Eddie Louise): "Let me go!" the boy screamed, terror causing his eyes to flash white. (First sentence I flipped to.)

Sebastien (Anne Bishop): Even after a few hours sleep she still felt weary. (First sentence flipped to.)

The other side of dark (Joan Lowery Nixon): "Who are you?" The whisper is weird but I'm too shocked to be frightened. (second flip of the book -- first flip didn't cue any emotion).

The night circus (Erin Morgenstern): He is mildly surprised that there is no discernable filing system. (that was on the first flip, but I enjoyed reading the page and stuck with it, and did not find an emotional tell until the fourth paragraph on that page.)

The obelisk gate (NKJemisin): "They don't. I was careful to wipe out the fulcrum when I tore Yumenes apart. There are still buildings where the city was, perched on the edges of the maw, unless they've fallen in since. But the obsidian walls are rubble, and I made sure main went into the pit first." There's a deep, vicious satisfaction in his voice. (first flip, first paragraph, but after that long bit of dialog.)

The Power (Naomi Alderman): She is too shocked to cry. (Third flip.)
 
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CathleenT

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I'm going to try to explain something, but this is a difficult topic because all the examples given in this thread are too telly for my taste. All of this is YMMV territory, btw.

The man who'd been hugged--we DON'T need to hear that he lost weight. It's too bald. Talk about his sunken cheeks. Tell me if there's still life in his eyes or if his shoulders are so bowed, it's impossible to picture him standing upright again.

Using emotion as the subject of the sentence--honestly, this one can get me to hurl books. Picture this little gremlin, with a t-shirt that says RAGE on it, throttling someone. If I've ruined the idea for you--good. It was never compelling to begin with,IMO. Also, it steals your character's agency. It's not the case that Snow White or whoever decided to do something. No, the rage is making the decisions. No, thanks--pass.

Settling up a false conflict of emotions--again, this is just stuffing a quality in a t-shirt and giving it the agency. You can do better, IMO.

Adverbial qualifiers I do use when I need the pace to move, but be careful. It's a spice, not a food group.

Comparing the emotional states strikes me as clumsy. It's too obvious, IMO.

Consider another approach, an indirect one. Hopefully, you watched Star Trek enough to know who Data is. The actor's approach to that character was to get the viewer to feel all the emotions that Data couldn't. Data couldn't talk about any of this stuff in the five ways listed above. And yet I ended up aching for him to feel something, anything.

Consider writing a few memoirs. Pick times with fleeting emotional connotations at first--not your wedding day or the birth of your first child. It doesn't even have to be a whole story--a vignette will do. A sunny day when you watched clouds and it seemed that nothing could go wrong, perhaps. Now you write that day, but you can't use the phrase "nothing could go wrong." And no fair subbing in invincibility or security or anything like that. Give me a breath catching in her throat, a gust of wind that kissed her skin and mussed the uptight hairstyle her mother insisted on. Show me the things that make her feel the emotion, rather than baldly declaring the emotion itself.

It's one method, anyway. It's mine, but that doesn't make it the only worthwhile one. Still, it might be worth playing around with. : )

ETA: When I say this method is mine, it's not like I invented it or anything. I just try to follow in the footsteps of writers I admire. If something is really important, show it. Telling is for ideas of lesser consequence--it's faster, so you don't kill your pace.

I don't think you're going to get readers to feel much with a tell. I believe it requires showing. Ditto important character traits/flaws.

And I don't even know if any of this helped. I hope something here made sense. : )
 
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Woollybear

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Aw, thank you for stopping by, Cathleen!

I don't disagree with the lovely thoughts you all share about the importance of showing. :) I think I swung fairly hard in that direction in ~early 2019, and it remains something we all probably devote effort toward. But also in 2019, I started reading and rereading more books, and found that I heavily gravitate toward some writers over others.

When I ask myself why, I see a variety of tips and tricks and tools in those favorite books, and I take note of them. Aside: For example, my favorite authors tend to build paragraphs comprised of about four lines, and each line falls into a different sort of category which may include: one of description, one of action, one of interiority, one of contextualization, one of conflict, and so on. Does that feel formulaic? No idea. Musicians tend to use four-four time, pop music tends to have a bridge usually after two verses, and so on... We tend to find the familiar comfortable and popular music has a structure. Perhaps it's formulaic! Heheh. My list of 'types of sentences to build paragraphs' is useful for me when I'm working through the thin portions of my chapters.

My favorite authors also use positive interpersonal relationships as a structural beam. My favorite authors also are inventive in their descriptive words--the words themselves hold judgment and are definitely not standard fare. (Kingsolver says in Pigs in Heaven: ‘His voice was thin, and he held his fierce lunatic head at an angle of bizarre arrogance.’ I love that.)

And my favorite authors give emotional cues to the reader, alongside and woven into their prose. Sometimes that cue is a direct response to a stimulus. For example: I remember another bereaved parent (a friend of mine) saying in group once that earlier that day her (living) son was wearing the same filthy t-shirt he always wore, and she almost snapped at him to change the damned shirt, and then caught herself, realizing that if he died, as his brother had, she would--of course--bury him in his favorite t-shirt. In other words, on most days that t-shirt annoyed her to no end. But on this day it brought her grief, and some release.

It's not a false conflict--it's a show of change, and I suspect that added contextualization makes the 'tip/trick/tool' feel less telly. Here, I'm compiling the raw tips/tricks/tools, because, frankly, I don't want to simply say "Woollybear was angry" when I could say Anger--rage, even--threatened to wring away Woollybear's last bit of reason, but she pushed against it and said, surprised at how calm her words came, "Please scoop the cat litter, sweetheart." (chuckle)

Woollybear was angry might be the first iteration of that portion of the story. That emotional cue can be reworked. The anger can be the subject, or the verb, or put into context with other emotions. Woollybear might compare her anger to that of other other Caterpillars, or to her own on a different day. There are ways to add more to an emotional cue.

But we all agree that context matters.

Anyway, it's an interesting topic to me. Our reactions may also have to do with how our brains are wired. :)

ETA (which is why I keep editing the post):

Out of curiosity I went to Maass's exercise #1: Effective showing. I was curious if the excerpts Maass highlights use emotional cues of the sort I'm mentioning here.

Immediately after the exercise is a passage from Hemingway's In Another Country. Maass says of Hemingway: "He could brilliantly capture pure emotion, as he did in this passage..."

Maass then shares the passage, and within the ~250 words are two emotional cues of the sort I mean:

(1) I was never ashamed of the ribbons (note to self: cue with the emotion the protagonist doesn't feel) and

(2) I was very much afraid to die.

That frequency of emotional cuing (1/125 words) is not too far out of line with once every 80-100 words.

You can argue that the emotional content of the passage doesn't lie in the cues, (and I'd agree), but I'd also counter-argue that Hemingway was comfortable bringing them in, and probably did so for a reason. I'm not trying to argue that the cues carry the emotion, rather that readers find them useful, so how to do them well?
 
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gtanders

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Hey Patty. :) This is one of my favorite aspects of writing fiction, and like you, I'm hoping to master it.

In my theoretical framework (for what it's worth), there are several possible techniques for establishing emotion:

1) emotional "tell" + sensory grounding.

Ex: Her hands shook with rage.

"hands shook" provides sensory grounding. "rage" is a tell, because it names the emotion and forces the reader to accept it.

This works for POV or non-POV characters. Melissa Caruso does this really well in The Obsidian Tower (great book, BTW).

2) Internal, subjective monologue that pronounces judgment on people and things

This is my personal favorite. I use it whenever something happens externally which a normal person would react to emotionally. This is basically a "personal truth" interpretation of the event.

Ex:

Billy threw the box on the floor.

She stared and took a deep breath. How could he be so selfish?


3) External actions of characters which naturally provoke the emotion you want the reader to have

IMO, this is the easiest. It's all too easy to paint a nasty person and show the MC struggling with fear of them.

Hope that's helpful and not too reductionist, but those are really the only ones I think about. Cheers!
 

Woollybear

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No problem with reductionism in my world view. :)

Thanks! These all look awesome.
 

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