1. ashurbanipal
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    ashurbanipal Member

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    Describing/Showing Intense Emotion

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ashurbanipal, Jun 26, 2016.

    Hello,

    I was wondering how people would go about describing a scene in which a character is alone or isolated somehow, but is experiencing intense emotion. This naturally means dialogue is unavailable, and it is difficult not to fall into the trap of describing and not showing.

    What strategies would you use for this? Would you use more internal dialogue i.e.thoughts, or narrative description? A mixture perhaps? Or maybe something else?

    Feel free to post a short piece describing a character experiencing any form of intense emotion while alone. I'd also like to hear if you know any memorable pieces from literature. Crime and Punishment comes to mind when thinking of descriptions of isolated paranoia, etc.
     
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  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I tend to focus on how the character physically feels - the effects extreme emotion can have on your body, like nausea, lightheadedness, loss of breath, muscle soreness from tension, things like fingernails biting into palms. That, and describing how the character's surroundings feel/seem, eg maybe everything feels like it's closing in vs everything feels empty and far away, maybe everything is dull and muted vs everything is too bright and loud. It really depends on what emotion the character's feeling.
     
  3. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I also choose to vary pacing reflecting inner turmoil. It all depends on the type of intense emotion, but in certain situations

    - I write sentences with just noun, verb, object, full stop. Getting down even to fragments. All in active speech.
    - In other situations passive speech and long, meandering sentences feel more appropriate.
     
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  4. ashurbanipal
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    ashurbanipal Member

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    Thanks for those ideas. I forgot to mention I am mostly refererring to third person. I imagine it would be easier to include thought processes in a first person narrative.
     
  5. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    You can do it in third as well as first, there is really not that much difference. :)
     
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  6. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    Yep, with my method it's really only the difference between "My stomach clenched" and "His stomach clenched".
     
  7. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    What you're describing is what Dwight V. Swain calls a sequel, the part of a story that falls between scenes. It's where the viewpoint character licks his wounds, thinks about his dilemma and decides what he's going to do to solve that dilemma.

    Check out Swain's book (see my sig). He goes into enough detail on this to give you an idea how to solve your situation.
     
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  8. IHaveNoName
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    IHaveNoName Active Member

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    Why is dialogue unavailable? Couldn't the character be talking to him/herself? I mean, it really depends on what emotion the character's experiencing, but it wouldn't be hard:

    * Anger/disappointment/frustration:
    Melanie smacked the wall and cursed. "Stupid! You fucking idiot! Why the hell did I do that??" She added a kick for good measure, then turned and stomped across the room to fling herself into a chair.

    * Happiness:
    Melanie bounced down the hall, barely keeping herself from bursting into song. He loved her! He'd confessed his feelings, and they were for her, not that other woman!

    * Sadness:
    *Melanie slammed the door and threw herself onto the bed, tears already welling up. She was barely able to bury her face in the pillow before her sobs escaped and she wept, screaming out her pain.

    Etc.
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Here's an interesting twist to the issue, which I found last night while reading the latest (September 2016) issue of Writers' Digest. It's in an article by David Corbett, entitled "Emotion versus Feeling."

    He says:


    "We all experience multiple emotions in any given situation. So, too, our characters. To create genuine emotion when crafting a scene, identify the most likely or obvious response your character might have, then ask:

    What other emotion might she be experiencing? Then ask it again—reach a “third-level emotion.” Have the character express or exhibit that. Through this use of the unexpected, the reader will experience a greater range of emotion, making the scene more vivid."

    .........

    I think that often the first emotion we feel is the most likely to dissipate soonest. The deeper into the layers we get, the more long-lasting the impact.

    Just a superficial example from my own experience. I woke up on Friday morning to discover that the UK voted to leave the EU. My first reaction was disbelief. My second reaction was total fury. Then my third reaction was fear/worry about what is going to happen now. While the first reaction has gone, and my second reaction is more muted, the third reaction is growing.

    If you play with that third reaction, you get a deeper sense of what really has upset your character.

    Try to avoid cliche reactions, if you can. Bursting into tears and sobbing hysterically when a person feels sad. Throwing coffee cups across the room and slamming doors when a person gets angry. See if you can dig deeper into what would actually happen. Maybe a person gets so angry they forget where they are and what they're doing for a few moments. Maybe the sadness is so overwhelming they can only think to stoop and pet the dog for a long time, hoping nobody will notice. Think about what you would actually do in these situations. See if you can remember what other people have done when they are in an intensely emotional state. Dig into the situation, and don't just grab the first image that comes to you. More often than not, unless you know your characters very well, that first choice will be a cliche.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2016

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