1. Sulla
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    Sulla Member

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    Conveying Emotion in Stories and Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sulla, Sep 19, 2012.

    One thing I've always found hard to write is emotion.

    Mostly the way I see emotion conveyed is through action. However, not every emotion has a direct action associated with it.

    Like depression. How do you convey depression? You can have a character who cuts themselves, who gets put into a hospital, who is seen taking medication. That's fine but it doesn't really convey depression. What's the best way to do it? With depression I feel like tone is the best way to do it.

    Even love I have trouble with. I guess my main hang-up is that I find it difficult to convey an emotion through an action (kind of the SHOWING Vs. TELLING debate).

    Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Do some research on clinical depression. Try Google and Web-MD for a start. There's a ton of material out there. Depression isn't just an emotion, it's an illness.

    As you yourself point out, not every emotion has an exclusive action tied to it, and in fact some actions can be indicative of what we consider opposing emotions - crying being the most obvious example. To truly convey emotion well, you need to weave action and description together. But it's also true that two different people may very well display different actions for the same emotion (grief comes to mind).

    I'm afraid there isn't an easy "how to" for this.
     
  3. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Body language is a good gauge to show emotion. A depressed characters might have their head lowered, hunched shoulders, give disinterested glances, have their hands in their pocket (even in the summer), dragging their feet, or they may be curled up in foetus position for self-comfort. Also there's always their inner most thoughts to get the emotion across- an ongoing dialogue of their woes or their inadequacies- their inner demon.
     
  4. Sulla
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    Sulla Member

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    That's good advice. I try to incorporate body language but will try to use more.

    I understand depression quite well. I have bi-polar disorder. It's not a matter of understanding but conveying that through the written word. That's where I'm stuck.

    Love is a difficult emotion too. The actions of one who is in love are mostly cliched. Even when you can find actions to convey love they don't do it complete justice.
     
  5. ArtWander
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    ArtWander Contributing Member

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    I think the best conveyed emotion is when it is done subtly. Be careful to not shove themes of depression in the reader's face. Start slow. Show how the world looks to the characters. Dull, boring, missing something. Ease into the fact that the character might partake in depression-based activities.

    Hope that helps.
     
  6. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Well, is your story written in first, or third person? That will help you decide too, or so I believe.

    If your story is in first person POV, you have the opportunity to actually transport your readers into the mind of a person feeling whatever it is you are trying to convey. Use imagery - the senses. "I awoke to find half of my body missing. It took me a while to discover that it wasn't anything physical - all my limbs were accounted for. It was internal, more like a mental void. I'd lost the desire to live."

    Third person comes in various forms too, and the one you select will change how you present your character's feelings. You may have to rely on another character to call out the emotion - observe it so the audience sees it too. Describe changes in the character's behaviour, or clothing. Something like that.

    Another thing you can use is your actual physical writing. For example, if your character is relaxed, allow your sentences to become more sprawling, which encourages a slower read. If your character is in distress, shorten them up. Tight sentences call for faster reading, and faster reading can really set the tone. It is not only words we can use to craft feeling in our passages. Writing is an art too, remember, and it has a visual quality that should not be overlooked (pun intended).

    Hope this helps.
     
  7. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    I like using dialogue. I feel like that's a good way to set it up. Then I dig deeper, giving background on why the character might snap like that. Basically you want to legitimize their reaction.

    "Hey buddy, I haven't seen you at school lately. Got that flu that's been going around?"
    "No."
    "Diarrhea?"
    "I'm not sick."
    "Well you normally have perfect attendance, something doesn't add up."
    "Just drop it, OK?!"
     
  8. Program
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    What probably helps conveying emotions the most is to experience it yourself. Unfortunately, not all people experience all emotions, such as depression, so you should do some research on it, use your imagination and then carefully pick your words to craft it.

    And of course, you'll need your wordings to be unique. Nobody is interested in the depression you are going to portray if it's someone cutting him/herself. We all know that and it's obvious so what's the point in reading about it, right?
     
  9. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    A combination of actions and thoughts can convey emotion. If you're a writer, such as myself, who basically uses a steady stream of consciousness in writing to convey what my MC's thinking about, then it's a bit easier to show how they feel. Combine that with some other action, such a getting drunk, etc etc, and you can make combinations, which will help convey emotions.
     
  10. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Emotion is something that everyone shares. If you describe a situation, and the characters reactions to that situation, along with at least some of what they are thinking, most readers will infer the emotion that that character would feel. Emotion is a common experience, and alot of people react similarly in similar situations. For example, if someone you've never met before were to walk up to you, tell you that you have clown face, then skip off down the street singing a tune from mary poppins, you would most likely be confused, and possibly a little bit angry. (Hopefully that illustration wasn't to ridiculous lol) Write that situation, tell the reader that your character scratched his head, and tried to figure out what just happened, and they will know what the character is feeling. Point is, you don't have to spell emotion out to the letter. If you develop a character well, and give the basic information needed for the reader to understand what the character is feeling, the emotion will be there. And you'll be actively involving the reader more as well. I hope that makes sense.
     
  11. lixAxil
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    lixAxil Self-Proclaimed Senator of the RPG subforum. Contributor

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    Regarding emotional states, I love to do certain instropection of the character, more than what it does is what it think, the way the character see its own life
     
  12. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Describing the body language of a character shows how he or she feels. Like how would you describe a character feeling happy if you are outside his or her head?
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How do you detect someone's mood by observing him or her? You pay attention to the details - the tight-lipped stare that tells you your friend is furious, the bounce in another friend's step when she's happy.

    Show those details, and the reader will infer your character's mood.

    To succeed, you must be a shrewd observer of people.
     

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