Wearing Emotions On My Character’s Sleeve

30 Dec

I stumbled upon an interesting post while I was googling how to write a good plot. It was an interview with John Olson on the Advanced Fiction Writing blog where he discussed “Writing in the Shadows”. Apparently this is a seminar he gives at conferences.

He didn’t go into great detail during the interview, obviously wanting to reel people in to buy the audio of it, but what he did say made perfect sense. Every author has heard the old adage “Show don’t tell.” I certainly have and I thought I was doing that. Most of my writing consists of scenes written in past tense but told like present. I think (I hope) my readers feel like they’re in the moment with the characters. They learn information as the MCs do. But what I didn’t realize is that I was still telling the emotions.

“Jamie stared in surprise.”

How lame! Olson gave a few examples of how to imply things like surprise without ever using that word (or even a synonym). Instead he described nuances in the setting and the characters reaction to give a feel for the situation. That way the readers pick up on the emotion and feel it themselves. Sometimes they can even feel something before the MC does.

“When Jamie caught of glimpse of her, his breath stopped. Her hair danced wild around her, haloing her face with blonde tangles. Their eyes met and a shy smile spread across her lips.”

Tells a heck of a lot more, doesn’t it? I didn’t have to tell you he was surprised, but you knew it anyway. How cool is that!

Okay, now back to google to find what I was really looking for.


Posted by on 2009/12/30 in Writing


4 responses to “Wearing Emotions On My Character’s Sleeve

  1. Tirzah

    2010/01/01 at 19:15

    AH, useful tip.

  2. Corra McFeydon

    2010/01/01 at 20:13

    Great post. I catch myself telling all the time.

    I can see it in work I edit, so that must be how I catch it in my own. But I write the easy ‘he was surprised’ stuff in my first drafts all the time. It’s forever slipping through.

    And you’re right: the little bit of description takes the reader so much further. It involves them, and every reader wants to be involved.

    • Candice Beever

      2010/01/02 at 00:24

      Yeah, I pick up a ton of my own faults in editing others too. Sometimes I think giving reviews is more useful than getting them.


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