Tuesday, October 9, 2007

But I Said She Was Happy!

Maven Jacqueline BarbourMaybe this is something other writers don't struggle with, but I know it's my Waterloo. I have no problem with emotions. To the contrary, I can name them all day long: happy, sad, angry, bewitched, bothered, bewildered.

Unfortunately for me (and those of you like me whose writing never suffers from a dearth of adjectives or adverbs), when they tell you to add emotion (or "pink") to your manuscript, they're not talking about dropping in the occasional emotion-laded adjective to tell the reader what your characters are feeling. That's telling. What they mean is that you need to show your characters' emotions, to put the reader inside your characters' bodies and minds so that they actually experience the characters' feelings.

The question isn't "Does your heroine feel happy?" but "How does happy feel to your heroine?"


Telling: Mary was elated to see John across the crowded ballroom. She walked toward him, her hand outstretched in greeting.

Mary scarcely felt the ground beneath her feet when she spied John across the crowded ballroom. She floated toward him, her hand outstretched in greeting.
(Before you make fun, I remind you that I never said I was good at this.)

But it does get at the essential point. Don't tell me what your characters are feeling; put me inside their bodies so I feel what they're feeling.

To take this one step farther, you can use physical descriptions of your characters' surroundings to give the reader a glimpse of their emotions.

Little/no emotional information:
Mary walked into John's small corner office.

Emotion #1:
Mary skipped into John's cozy corner office.

Emotion #2:
Mary dragged her feet as she entered John's cramped corner office.
Again, while I can hardly claim these examples are terrific, witty prose, I think they illustrate how much information you can convey about a character's state of mind by choosing descriptive verbs and adjectives that carry emotional weight.

YOUR TURN: Okay, now it's workshop time! Try to find one example of emotional telling or weak use of verbs and adjective and "pink" it up. Show your work. And have fun.


Erica Ridley said...

Erica couldn't think of anything witty to comment on the MM blog.

Blood pulsed from every pore on her forehead as Erica's bleak eyes gazed at the computer screen, her fingers poised and motionless over her useless keyboard.

J Perry Stone said...

You obviously tapped into ALL our fears, Jacqueline.

And you have no idea the horror I experienced when my CP first told me to get rid of all my "ly" words.

--and my over-use of metaphor

--and bad words

Basically, that leaves me with a manuscript 50 pp shorter than what I started out with.


J Perry was asked to get rid of most of the adverbs, metaphors, and bad words in her WIP.


J Perry stared at the pile of pages of her unfinished book, thinking she might use it as toilet paper.

If only she'd printed it out on softer paper!

India Carolina said...

Well, I'm too bad at this to show my work, but I'll tell you about a really great example from Lisa Gardner's gone.

The protaganist's wife has been kidnapped. Instead of telling the reader he misses her, Lisa writes a scene where he takes all of his wife's dirty laundry (which she's left strewn about the bedroom) piles every last scrap of it onto the bed, burrows into it, and falls asleep buried in her smell. Now that's great emotion!

J Perry Stone said...

That IS good, India.

And speaking of laundry, maybe we all need to stop stressing about pink and simply think in terms of real life.

When my husband went overseas for a month and a half, I "dressed" his pillow in one of his unwashed T-shirts and hugged it every night until he returned.

Express disgust:

She gagged. (Never mind Darcy and India! I know you know my habits)

Express happiness:

She danced around, whooping like a lunatic, and half hoping the neighbors weren't home to see her through the windows.

Express preoccupation:

She sat in front of the TV, maniacally switching from channel to channel, her mind thoroughly occupied with how to cope with her first-grader’s shriveled, burnt-out teacher.

Express sexual frustration:

Ha! Like YOU all can’t do THAT one for yourselves.

Express embarrassment:

The piano player played on without her!

The little girl stood staring into the 3000 smiling faces of the church's congregation, the words to the duet dying in her throat.

She was going to cry, she just knew it—she even whimpered into the microphone a little bit--but then her mother gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and little girl found the strength to catch up with the pianist in the next verse, her voice shaking as she sang the words.

In the end, no one ever received a louder applause.

lacey kaye said...

Lacey pecked furiously at the keyboard with one finger, trying to inhale her half-cooked spaghetti while catching up with the day's blog. Alas, she did not have time to create or research a bad example because she was very late to her chapter meeting.

Jacqueline Barbour said...

I agree with J Perry, India. That's a great example of showing emotion.

And J, you done slayed (slew?) me with wishing you'd printed your book on softer paper. LOL!

I actually NEVER print anything out except for contests. A laptop is even more uncomfortable for...well...that use than paper. And a lot more expensive :)!

Darcy Burke said...

J, I'm laughing. And the Shoe Mission has been accomplished.

I feel witty.

Everyone laughed. The sound reverberated in my chest until I thought it might burst from my own lips. With a painful swallow that I felt all the way down in my lungs, I quietly smiled and simply...glowed.

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