The power of emotion and descriptive action connects readers to the plot and characters in novels. As a writer, we strive to bring readers up close so they can feel our character’s emotions and personal plights by stepping into their shoes. Well written scenes allow our audience to viscerally take part in the story and bond with the characters.
A common mistake many of us make is to tell readers what our characters are feeling or what action is happening instead of showing them. Some of us do both, i.e., “tell” then “show” character’s emotions which can doubly annoy readers. If you’re writing in first person, you may struggle with adhering to this advice even more. How can we avoid this writing pitfall?
- Have your character do something that reveals or shows his/her state of mind through action, body language, or dialogue. E.g., Jordan stomps into the room and slams the door so hard the picture on the wall by the door shudders then drops to the tiled floor, glass shards splaying about her feet. (Shows she is angry)
- Use strong verbs, e.g., resonate, nurture, reflect vs. using weak verbs, e.g., went, rose, moved
- Utilize a resource such as, “The Emotion Thesaurus” by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglis to freshen up your writing. This 172 page book (available as an eBook also) highlight 75 emotions and lists possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. Rating on Amazon.com shows 642 4.5 star reviews.
- Limit the use of adverbs as they weaken action by telling readers what’s happening instead of showing them.
- The use of generic nouns such as: car, building, city, street, etc., gives flat descriptions rather than vivid ones, e.g. the eight-story high rise instead of the building.
- Practice writing emotion-evoking scenes.
- Lengthy dialogue contributes to writing that “tells” instead of “shows”.
- Use vivid description of the time and place of your story, dispensing details in small doses throughout the novel.
Article by Donna Warner