1. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    How to show and not tell this feeling . . .

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by katica, Jun 25, 2011.

    When someone's sad, they frown.

    When someone's scared, their eyes widen.

    When someone's happy, they smile.

    When someone's nervous, they tremble.

    So on and so forth. I know there's more ways of showing these emotions than I listed.

    How in the world do I show and not tell the emotion "disturbed"? What do people do when they are feeling that emotion?
     
  2. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are a lot of things that can be described as "disturbed". What do you mean. The sort of thing that might make somebody pick repeatedly at their hair, keep standing up, pacing and sitting down again, pick the pencil off the desk, stare at it, put it down, straighten the jotter...
     
  3. Mr Mr
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    Mr Mr Active Member

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    This relies alot on context. In what way are they disturbed? Because disturbed isn't and emotion.
     
  4. Ashrynn
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    Ashrynn Active Member

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    "A cringe came to his face as he listened to what was being said. Never had a more gruesome tale been told before."

    Well...Disturbed mentally or distrubed as in..."You're disturbing me jackass!"

    Bleh, who cares if you have to say it.

    "A cringe came to his face, clearly disturbed by what was being said."
     
  5. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    Disturbed is an emotion. It's one of its many meanings (along with something along the lines of interrupt.) I mean it like the feeling you get when you watch a horror movie and a guy's arm gets chopped off in a way that makes you want to vomit and you replay the scene over and over in your mind, even though you don't want to because it's so disturbing to you. It's the feeling you get when something bothers you and you just don't want it to exist because in your opinion, it shouldn't exist because it's too terrible.

    AND I think I just accidentally answered my own question XD, which is awesome, but these things won't quite work in the context of what I am writing and I'd appreciate hearing other ideas so I can get better at this showing and not telling thing.

    I like Ashrynn's thoughts so far.
     
  6. Ashrynn
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    Ashrynn Active Member

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    Then add me as a friend and comment on my work yo! ^^
     
  7. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just want to say that you're not right. You're not wrong, or left, either, but you're not right. Just because you're sad, you don't frown. In fact, frowning might be used if you're trying to remember something. You might smile because you're wicked and conniving. You might tremble because you're happy.

    I'm willing to say, though, that when you say "disturbed", you mean, like, "disgusted". When I'm feeling that way, my left nostril raises, my left eyebrow lowers slightly, my eyes convey hatred INTO THE SOUL OF WHATEVER IS DISGUSTING ME, and my lower lip shifts slightly to the right.
    I am disturbed

    That's more like agitated, I think. Or possibly mental.

    To the note on context, yes. Disturbed could be a variety of things.


    It feels a little off to me, calling disturbed an "emotion". I'd say it's a feeling, but not an emotion. It's also far too vague. Again, you should say 'disgusted', since that's clearly what you mean.
     
  8. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    ^ Disgusting isn't quite right. It's more like a mixture of being both disgusted and terrified at the same time.

    I knew people would pick apart what I said and miss the point. This is why I said that there's a variety of ways to express with showing and not telling how people feel emotions, I was just listing possible examples so you could know what I was asking for.

    Also emotion/feeling . . . .well, an emotion is WHAT you feel, so being disturbed is an emotion, which is why the sentence "I feel disturbed" makes sense. And you are missing my point again because using semantics helps me in no way become a better writer.
     
  9. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    Well, I got it. I don't know what this "it's a feeling, not an emotion" business is about.

    When I'm disturbed, I raise the side of my lip and squint one eye, so half my face is crinkled and ugly. When one of my characters got disturbed, he closed his eyes and brought his head towards his chest, trying to hide like a turtle.
     
  10. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Which is why I also threw in a description which I felt you could use.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    What do you do when you're feeling the emotion that you call being disturbed? Do you avoid eye contact? Do you seem tired? Do you find something to fidget with? Do you tune out of conversation and miss what people say to you? Do you think frantically about whatever's disturbing you, so that your eyes are focused somewhere off in the distance? Any of these seem like a possibility, but I feel that I need a more specific example.

    One random example:

    John said, "That rooster was making too much noise, so I wrung its neck and left the blood on the ground, as a lesson to the others."

    Jane glanced at the floor, pushing her hair back, then looked up with a brittle-bright smile as she reached for her purse. "Well, OK, so I'd better get going. Nice talking to you." She maintained the smile all the way to the door, out to the porch, and into her car, releasing it only when the doors were locked with her inside.

    "Sheesh," she muttered, starting the engine. "Next time Mom can keep in touch with her own relatives." She turned the radio up and crunched down the gravel driveway in a reassuring fog of Joan Jett. Averting her eyes from the chicken coop.


    ChickenFreak
     
  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ Ashrynn: A 'cringe' can't come over anyone's face, because cringe is a verb, not a noun.
    To me, disturbed rarely means disgusted. It is more usually like 'troubled by something'.
    Sometimes saying 'she was shocked/disturbed' is better than trying to show the emotion, if you want to move the story quickly on. Telling is not always bad writing.
     
  13. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    That is almost a really ****ing awesome piece of prose. The only problem is that you end it on a really annoying sentence fragment. "She averts her eyes from the chicken coop." "... in a reassuring fog of Joan Jett, averting her eyes from the chicken coop."
    I'd even say that the "crunched down" is weird. "... rolled down" would sound better, because that's what she's doing in the car. The gravel is what is crunching, so that would be a separate description of the sound, but that's unnecessary because all she'd be listening to would be Joan Jett.
     
  14. Suadade
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    Suadade Senior Member

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    Noun
    cringe (plural cringes)
    A posture or gesture of shrinking or recoiling.
    "He glanced with a cringe at the mess on his desk."


    I don't really see the problem here. When I'm writing about an emotion I tend to feel - or, I should say, act - that emotion myself. If you want you can ascribe your own reaction to the emotion to your character. Otherwise you could just invent, I don't think anyone's going to tell you that your character's reaction to "disturbed" is wrong, unless you have him/her do cartwheels or something.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    As you have seen in this thread, "disturbed" doesn't communicate what you mean very well. It's too open to interpretation. The more subtle the emotion, or the more varied, the greater the importance of showing it rather than telling it.

    So, how do you show it?

    How can you, as an outside observer, determine that someone is feeling disturbed in the very way you intend? Do they shift their weight from one leg to the other? Do they avoid eye contact? Do they suddenly stop talking?

    Maybe you can know whatg the character feels, too. Perhaps a bit queasy? It's okay to use some telling in the process of showing, but it's best to stick to indirect, simpler feelings. The character feels a chill in the back of her neck, or the hairs on her arm standing up. These are subjective, but more specific than a mood word.
     
  16. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    But it's a posture, not a facial expression, so a cringe can't "come over somebody's face" any more than a coat-hanger can or a paint can. You need more than for it to be a noun, you need it to be a noun that makes sense in context. You probably need something like "grimace" rather than "cringe".
     
  17. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, 'disturbed', in the strict sense of an emotion, connotes anxiety or distress not disgust.

    Yes, that sounds as though you truly are a disturbed individual. ;o)
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @OP:

    If you want to show the emotion, there is plenty of good advice here. As an aside, I'll simply say that you shouldn't take and so-called "rule" of writing as an absolute. "Show don't tell" doesn't mean you have to 'show' every single thing in your story. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a book where that is done.

    If you go grab books off the shelf at your local book store I think you'll find any number of them that, at some point, will simply say something like "John was disturbed." Or some variation of that, depending on the emotion being conveyed etc. At some point, you end up overdoing it when a simple statement telling the reader something would suffice.

    So I'm in agreement with madhoca, above.

    As for a couple of other issues that have arisen in the thread: 1) sentence fragments are fine and at times even desirable in fiction (in fact, ChickenFreak's entire random example should remain unchanged); and 2) agree about "cringe," though the sort of usage in dispute is something you see in published fiction all the time. The only time is works even halfway well, in my view, is when the description is an observation made by one character of another in a close POV.
     
  19. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd like to second that emotion!
     

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