Readers pick up a book to have an emotional experience. They want to connect with characters on an emotional level that will eventually, by the end of the story, enrich their own lives. (Tweet this).
Readers don’t want to be told how a character feels. They want to experience the emotion themselves. Dialogue is one way to convey or show character emotion, but much of a character’s emotion is nonverbal.
In The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, the authors break down nonverbal communication into three elements: physical signals (body language and actions), internal sensations (visceral reactions) and mental responses (thoughts).
In their book, the authors list over seventy emotions, such as anger, depression, doubt, excitement, happiness, loneliness, relief, and sadness, and offer suggestions on how these emotions can be shown through the three elements above. Read more
Holidays enchant us with snowmen, gingerbread people, and candy canes. They can also be full of drama: Uncle Ralph and Aunt Sally in a snit at the dining room table or overtired children throwing tantrums in the middle of the mall. And don’t even get me started about the company Christmas party when Roger in Accounting had too much to drink and….well you get the idea.
Anyway, all these scenes are subjects for writers. Opportunities to observe the human condition to see what it can offer our storytelling. Read more
Have you ever written a passage of dialogue between two characters who sounded just alike? I have. After awhile, I couldn’t tell which character was speaking. With a novel full of characters, it can be difficult to make each and every one stand out with a distinctive voice.
One way to find a character’s distinctive voice is keep a Voice Journal. Author James Scott Bell says he’ll do this if he finds one of his characters is starting to sound too dull or pedestrian. Read more
In an interview with author and journalist Pete Hamill, he explains how he researches his novels and in the process creates memories for his fictional characters.
If his fiction is set in the past, he reads histories, letters, memoirs and old newspapers.
“Then I let my notes marinate for awhile, usually a few months, until they become memory…the memory of one or more of the characters.”
Many newspapers have placed archives online and for older editions of newspapers that aren’t online, check the archives at your library. You’ll also find letters, artifacts, photos, and historical documents at local and state libraries and historical societies.
Read the full interview with Hamill in the December 2011 issue of The Writer magazine.
The golden rule in writing, “Show, don’t tell,” is something I try to follow most of the time. The only time I use “telling” is for transitions, to speed up time, get from one place to another, or weave in necessary information. But when writing in scene, I try to evoke character feelings through “showing.”
Loud, neon emotions written flat on the page don’t convey anything except a writer’s immaturity and lack of craft. Read more
I don’t mean to sound morbid, but if you’re building characters for a short story or novel, I suggest you write their obituaries.
I’ve written a fair number of them over the years as a newspaper reporter, for members of my family, and to help friends who struggled with the words to honor a loved one who had passed away.
A good obituary is a tribute and a glimpse of a person’s life. As a journalist, I felt it was an honor to write obituaries even if I didn’t personally know the people I wrote about. Read more
Ever have one of those “aha” moments in your personal life that just rock your writing world? I love it when this happens.
Recently, while on vacation with my hubby, we were surfing channels late one night and ran across an old rerun of The Odd Couple with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. The Odd Couple, in case you’re too young to remember, was a sit-com about two men Oscar, the slob, and Felix, the neat freak, and how they live together and drive each other crazy. We watched the episode and laughed more at how corny the show was than the jokes (but the jokes were pretty funny too).