1. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    Conveying Emotion

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Eunoia, Apr 18, 2011.

    (I don't know if there's a similar thread, I had a quick look but couldn't see one, but if there is, feel free to merge/point to me where it is.)

    In my writing, I often have the problem of conveying emotion. I tend to get the 'put more emotion into your writing, how does the character really feel' etc. feedback. I know that one way of helping with this is to think about how I feel when I'm say angry, upset, happy etc. and incorporate that into my writing, but I still feel that I'm struggling. It may be because I'm quite a private person myself and don't really show my feelings much, or something, but I don't know.

    I just wondered what you did to ensure that you conveyed emotion. Do you do what I mentioned above, or is there another way? Is it just natural for you? It'd be really helpful if you could enlighten me!
     
  2. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I'm a very visual writer; I like to see exactly what my character does when I'm writing about them. So, I will try to picture my character reacting to what is going on and try to put that in words.
     
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  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bookshelf Muse has an emotion thesaurus which I am addicted to (much better than TVtropes lol) Even if someone is staring at the ceiling they may touch their chin, wipe a tear and bite a lip.

    Remember as well as what they are thinking, and saying the character will be doing something for example upset:

    Tim slid down the wall his head in his hands. Nothing he can do will put this right. He reaches out to touch Joe who is curled into a ball sobbing. Joe pulls away, refusing the comfort.

    Paula slams her mug down on the table, 'That ass-wipe got my daughter pregnant.'

    Angus balls his fist, he smacks it against his palm. Socrates will not be getting away with this how dare he. He pulls himself up to his full six foot ten frame and marches out of his office slamming the door behind him.
     
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  4. Terri
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    Terri Senior Member

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    I think what Elgaisma suggested is perfect for a private person. Besides, it uses the 'show don't tell' concept that is SO pushed today. We don't want the narrator telling us how a character felt anyway. We'd rather have the picture painted & we engage our minds to figure out the emotion.

    Thanks for the thesaurus Elgaisma... I'm off to check that out myself! I'd compiled my own list from psychological standpoints, but I'm excited to hear there's something REAL out there to draw from.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is fantastic for upset, surprise, anger etc where it struggles is happy.

    I guess there are only so many ways to say grin, smirk, smile, his eyes twinkle etc lol And I write characters that like to have fun together as well as deal with big issues.
     
  6. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just had a quick look at Bookshelf Muse. I'll use it to spark off a more unique, I hope, description of the particular feeling that I can write. I know I need to show the emotion, it's just how exactly do I show that they're feeling confused, jealous etc. so that's going to be useful. This will also help to me picture the character feeling the emotion too.

    Thanks for the replies.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess this comes back to the 'casting' of a MC if you can with someone you can watch on youtube - this allows me to use the emotion thesaurus to like you say 'spark' ideas and describe how I know they would be.

    Angela Rippon and Anna Ford are making my favourite yet for my Aunts.
     
  8. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    One of the things that I'd suggest might help you put emotion into your writing is to keep close to what you know. If you draw your inspiration from your own experiences, then you can use your own feelings and experiences directly- and perhaps tap into your own emotions through that.

    Might not work, but it's the approach I use.
     
  9. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm, thanks, I'll give that a shot. I have tried before but perhaps I wasn't engaging with my experiences enough. Worth trying again anyway.
     
  10. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The best way to deliver emotion into your writing is to deliver the emotions of the character.

    A story has meaning in two ways

    1) relying on sympathetic tropes, hoping if you show a cute bunny, the reader will happen to go 'awww' and be happy. This is unreliable, as we all think and feel different things, so trying to build emotional meaning based on what every individual may feel, is unreliable.

    2) building an empathetic experience of the character by connecting the reader directly with how/what that character is thinking, feeling, remembering, etc. This way, the reader sees a character who feels real, connects to that realness, and is engaged. It makes it personal, but also isn't relying on something you can't control by trying to predict the exact reader-response, but instead relies on something you can control, which is delivering a character that feels real and authentic and like a person we can understand and care for. This way, even if you don't like the character, don't relate to them in the sense you see yourself in them, etc, the reader is still able to follow along in an engaged way. We like reading and learning about other people and their experiences.

    Pushing and posing your character around a stage isn't going to deliver emotion. It's going to deliver an unrefined approximation of emotion. It's referring to emotion, or more often the concept of emotion, but it isn't creating it. Creating emotion in fiction comes from within your character, not from the outside. External actions and reactions are only meaningful in context of an internal insight into the character. Without this internal insight, it's just a silly game of literary charades.
     
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  11. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Actually, that's incredibly good advice from popsicledeath. Listen to him.
     
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  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree good advice. Ultimately a mix of everything is what pulls it together,
     
  13. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed, thanks popsicledeath. :)
     
  14. Schwinn57
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    Schwinn57 Member

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    Popsicledeath -
    I wanna break down your advice into simpler terms so my simple mind can comprehend it. So let me walk through it, and hopefully you can tell me if thats what you were trying to convey or not.

    Ultimately, you're saying that we shouldn't wait for the reader to react to whats-happening, but instead, use the characters to convey their thoughts and feelings, pre-empting the reader response.

    So, using the bunny example, you would describe some bunny rabbit and then talk about what the characters thinks and feels about the bunny and whether or not he/she thinks its cute or annoying or whatever.
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Not pre-empting the reader response. That response will occur. But instead of relying on hoping a reader likes bunnies, you establish that your character likes bunnies and why, and how they like bunnies, and what bunnies mean to them. Then, even if a reader doesn't personally like bunnies, they can still be connected to the story because they're able to understand the liking of bunnies through having empathy for the character's experience of liking bunnies, and may even come to a new understanding when it comes to liking bunnies.
     
  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wasn't even aware of it but then a friend told me I was so 'good' at describing feelings/emotions that it even paused the story for a while, and he said he felt more that saw the characters but unfortunately I can't tell what exactly it is that Im doing since i'ts not a conscious effort. I just put myself so much into the character that it almost feels like im her/him and describe everything I would feel in that same situation. That is a part of writing that I love actually, putting myself in the clothes of someone else, being someone else for a while, and forget about my own life. Maybe that's why?
     
  17. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I had the same problem as you. It's not that much that I'm a private person, but that I simply don't tend to feel that much.

    Something I found that helped was writing a story where I wasn't in any character's head. I was just this fly on the wall that observed everyone. I could never say "he felt sad", because how could I know since I'm simply an observer. I could only say what he did at the time and what it looked like. After that story I got a lot more positive feedback when it came to showing my character's emotions.
     
  18. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    That was a very good advice, I will definitely try that!
     
  19. Schwinn57
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    Schwinn57 Member

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    Great stuff here guys. I'll have to try this out.
     
  20. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes less is more, as well. A ten-line paragraph describing how the tears roll down the character's cheek isn't gonna give more reader response than a single line. Perhaps only more response in the sense that the reader pulls away, sensing such an obvious attempt at manipulation from the writer.

    Check out Neil Gaiman for this. He applies the less-is-more with great skill and often simply uses tell instead of elaborate show.

    One line I remember off the top of my head (paraphrased):
    ... And then he felt a profound sadness, knowing it all would come to an end.

    That would have taken three paragraphs of show and might not even have gotten the point across. So just telling how he feels and move on can often make it more powerful.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't resist:

    Bunnies aren't just cute like everybody supposes.
    They got them hoppy legs and twitchy little noses.
    And what's with all the carrots?
    What do they need such good eyesight for anyway?


    Anya. From the Buffy Musical. I'm not just including it because I love that song, but because I think it's an example of what I think popsicledeath's saying. _I_ think bunnies are adorable, but when Anya speaks, I can see how they could be sort of creepy and ominous.

    ChickenFreak
     
  22. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    It helps to build up a sort of vocabulary around your main characters so you remember what words you've used to describe them before. I'm not sure if this is one of the freakish things about me, or if everyone does it, but I can pretty much remember every single word I've written in every single novel I've written if I stop to think about it. Not exactly, but the language I was using, particularly to describe characters and settings.

    Developing a character's emotions is very important. A character who jumps in and out of emotions too fast won't seem credible, so however well you build them up in the moment, if the next time you see them they're smiling again, you'll lose the credibility. I can't really explain but I keep in mind all the past emotions of the character - every eye-roll and biting of the lip, and build upon that so the character never jumps without good reason.

    So, example: I kind of made up a set base of emotions for my main female character in my novel: Bratty, a little curious, a deep sadness she never tries to show and masks with yet more brattiness. Every response she made had to be from that, and I frequently used the same kind of words - "pouted" "scowled" etc. They crop up about her all through the novel because they're her base emotional state.

    Therefore when she enters a scene if she smiles it's "rare" or she struggles with her tears, etc. I can't remember if I even wrote those words, but knowing her character just from writing it, I can say with confidence that if I had written a scene with her crying out of anything more than petty things, it would have been a long moment of gnawing on her lip to hold back the sobs, anger as she tried to hide it so probably she would shout and as she did so the tears would start falling and she'd finally break down. She doesn't cry often in the novel, but the threat of it appears a lot. I save the break down for when it's important. :p

    My main character of that novel is a lot more arrogant, and cheerful/false cheerful, tends to be a bit dark and broody but mostly can't help being too fast witted and uplifted by snarking at his friends to really sulk most of the time (terrible description of him and I'm sure he'd hate me to read that summary of his character :p). When I write him, the base emotions are slow smiles, raised eyebrows, laughter (it's very important to know if and how all of your characters laugh), and a tendency to look shiftily away and change the subject if anything gets too close to stuff he doesn't want to think about.

    When writing him, if, to use the same example, he was going to cry, then it would take a great deal of effort where perhaps I could fall back to crying as a response for a great deal more with the girl. I think he cries only twice - once out of a sort of bittersweet happiness, very sarcastically, and once out of anger and frustration. Both times I had to build and build events, so it was not a spur of the moment emotional response, but for several scenes I'd been mentioning things, eating away at his mood, giving him more and more to think about, adding smile after smile or frown after frown (not described like that each time obviously :p) until finally I reached the key point in his emotional journey, at which point I thought it was safe for him to cry.


    I hope that helps in some way. :) It's very much my writing style/approach, not guidelines. :p
     
  23. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm, I'm going to have to try that.

    I agree, I often do the less is more thing and find it to be more effective.

    Melzaar: That is helpful. I have a poor memory so I can't remember everything I've written or every exact trait I've given a character, and to be honest, I make it up as I write. :p I think giving each character a few emotions vital to them is a good idea so I will definitely try that out.

    Thanks for all the replies!
     
  24. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm thinking Wallace and Grommit lol Also to a lot of writers bunnies are incredibly dangerous.
     
  25. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    I don't really have any advice to give, since I'm still muddling through my own way of conveying emotion (struggling with the 'show don't tell' thing and all). I just wanted to say this's a great thread and that it helped me a lot.

    Thanks Elgaisma and Melzaar especially, for your great advices :)
     

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