How Writers Can Avoid “Underwriting” Emotions

FatalFlaw_9-150x150I’m blogging at Live, Write, Thrive today on Underwriting Emotions. Here’s an excerpt:

Show, don’t tell. That lesson is drummed into novelists’ heads, and for good reason. Readers don’t want to be told stories; they want to experience them. They want to charge into battle with your hero, face down the enemy with your heroine. They want to be in the action, not just watch it from the sidelines. They want to feel your story.

And great writers oblige, moving from scene to scene quickly, including vivid details to help the reader imagine the settings, filling each moment with tension and conflict. But sometimes, the emotions get lost along the way. And this can lead to “underwriting”—what we’ve been looking at all month. Leaving out important pieces that are needed to engage your readers.

What’s Missing When You “Tell” Emotions?

You certainly don’t want to name emotions with fabulous writing like “She was sad.” That’s pure telling. So writers find a way to show it. “Her eyes filled with tears.” Great, now we know she was sad. But there’s always more to sadness than just tears.

The last time you cried, was your brain engaged? Because mine was. In fact, it was probably what was happening in your brain that caused the tears. Let me take it a step further. Every emotion we wear on our skin is an outward manifestation of something deeper.

You might be able to tell if your spouse is mad because of that little vein that throbs on his forehead, but can you tell what led to his anger? Was it frustration? Irritation? Jealousy? Was he feeling critical? Or defensive? Or perhaps fearful. Some of us rage against fear.

So as an author, if you just show us the throbbing vein or the teary eyes, you’re missing an opportunity to show us the character’s emotions. You’re underwriting.

Read the rest at Live, Write, Thrive.


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