Purple Prose + telling

Emotion Behind Story: Part Two

©Stina Lindenblatt

Monday, I posted on how universal theme and the character wound builds emotion in your story. Today, I want to focus on two other ways to develop emotional power in your story.

Showing verses Telling

The first thing you want to avoid when writing emotion is telling.

“Go away,” he said angrily.

In the above sentence, the writer is telling the reader that the character is angry. We don’t get to experience his anger. You can switch ‘said angrily’ for yelled, but there’s a stronger way to show emotion.

He gripped the ends of the armrests and took a long, slow breath. “Go. Away.” The two simple words, meaningless on their own, held a dangerous edge when spoken without his usual warmth. He could only hope that Lydia was smart enough to understand what he was really telling her. She was a b**** and a traitor, and he would rather spend eternity in hell than spend another minute listening to her heartbreaking lies.

In the first example, you learn nothing about the character. By showing the emotion through action, dialogue, inner thoughts, visceral reaction, setting (more about this in a moment), you reveal characterization. One character might scream and hurl breakable objects at the wall when he is angry. Another character might speak in a calm yet deadly tone, and reveal his anger through body language, like in the second example. Same emotion. Two different ways to show it.

Go Deep

Words are powerful, but only if you pick the right ones. Use words in an unexpected way to add emotion to the sentence. These are typically your theme words or scene-related ones (i.e. if your scene deals with death, your power words would be related to death). For example, ‘He watched the light bleed slowly out of day . . . . ‘ (Whispers by Dean Koontz). Notice the difference, emotion wise, between that and ‘He watched the daylight fade . . . .’ The former sentence was created to give you the shivers. Try this trick to add dimension and emotion to your setting.

Use words to show a shift in emotion and mood in the scene. The scene could start off with words like ‘skip, sunshine, rose-scented’, but as the mood and emotion change, you weave in words like ‘trudge, stench of rotting corpses, spiraling down’. For the most impact, figure out what emotions you want to show in the scene, brainstorm verbs and nouns that best convey them, then slip them in as needed. This is a great way to add imagery to your writing.

Study Study Study

The best way to learn how to put emotion in your story is to study your favorite novels (or short stories, if you write them). Pick ones similar to what you want to write. For example, if you want to write a tear jerker, then that’s what you should study. Rip them apart and examine how the author approached the above elements. Then apply what you learned to your WIP. I’ll be talking more about analyzing stories in an upcoming post.

Do you make sure that your story is rich with emotion before you write the first draft and while editing?

(note: I’ve posted part one and two today on the Querytracker blog).

best, emotion, favorite, hope, Novel, power words, showing, and more:

Emotion Behind Story: Part Two + telling