Mark your calendars because Tiffany will be sharing her knowledge with us the last Friday of every month, starting TODAY! Yeah!
Writers are always told to show, show, show!
SHOW visceral reactions.
SHOW emotive body language.
But we aren’t always taught when or how much. This is almost MORE important than the showing itself.
Have you ever read a book where the characters are too quick to tears? Or they are too quick moving from decision to decision. Was it believable? More importantly, did it keep you interested? Readers need to marvel at the character’s ability to stay strong. And readers need reasons to root for their character. Who is going to root for the crying-at-every-challenge character in the corner?
Can you imagine if Scarlet cried buckets after every obstacle thrown in her way in Gone With The Wind? In Hunger Games, what if Katniss made the decision to save her sister and then proceeded to cry when anyone mentions her home, family, or sisters. If we wrote our characters like this, readers wouldn’t have characters to root for. Let alone, a plot worth its dramatic weight in publication gold.
It’s a thin line to walk when thinking about your characters. So many of life’s elements test our strength and push vulnerabilities.
- AND THE LIST COULD GO ON!
These are the very tools we use to create drama. And yet if we let them rule, our go-to reaction is usually to cry. So, when is the right moment to let the flood gates open?
When your character has done everything BUT cry. Of course it is different with each character, plot, and genre – especially YA, yadda yadda. I am saying for you to let us see the struggles, up hills, smacks in the face, and bombs. And let us watch your character flounder a bit before the first tear rolls down that cheek.
In the theatre, actors are told that the more a character fights the tears back, the further in your audience will be drawn. Actors are told that if they allow their characters to burst into tears during a dramatic scene the audience won’t be crying or emoting as much as when they get to watch the character battle the obstacle and finally be broken by it. My director would say he didn’t want to see me cry, he wanted to see me try not to cry, it was more interesting.
And, turns out, he was right (of course he was right, he’s being nominated for Tony’s!)
Theatre and literature are very similar.
Actors, writers, directors are pushing characters to the breaking point, page after page. Scene after scene. We can’t afford for them to be boohooing when they rip their trousers at the school dance, or at the sight of their dead brother when a killer is on the loose.
No – we need them to act! What we don’t need is to see every single thought or feeling that goes through their head.
How much emotion should we show? Depends on where you are in the characters’ struggles. Depends on where you are in the plot. One variable that is always the same: your readers want to have an experience. So let the reader put the puzzle pieces together. Show your characters emotions through their actions, reactions, body language, and vocal cues. No spoon feeding allowed. You can show sorrow without putting a whole heart on the table.
I’m a big list person when it comes to plotting, editing, characterizations, setting, etc. Usually these lists start out with questions and end up with fleshed out details to plunk into your drafts. It’s no different with emotional timing.
First. List your all of your characters obstacles from big to small. Or list them like the Thai place labels their curry *wink wink*
- Lost keys = timid
- Lost job = mild to medium
- Lost love and betrayal = medium to hot (depending on the extent of betrayal and who it was with)
- Loss of loved one = medium to hot (depends on how death occurred)
- Lost security: kidnapping, torture, battle between good and evil = hot to sweaty forehead hot
- Loss of humanity: bombs, apocalypse, war = sweaty forehead hot to loss of sensation in tongue hot
Second. Look at your plot line. Place the obstacle on the plot line. Now start asking yourself questions. You might get an answer that makes you challenge where the obstacle is in the plot, or what it is.
- How strong or how vulnerable is your character after each obstacle?
- Where in the plot is it feasible that your character would have a breaking point?
- Do you think it will deepen characterization and intrigue if your character is shown to become stronger after one of those obstacles?
- Do you need to teach your character a lesson early in the plot so that they are better prepared to handle the obstacle towards the end?
- Does what you are showing from the character strengthening the reader’s connection with that character? Does the event invite sympathy? Or does it throw up a wall?
- Are your characters reactions consistent with their character and each situation? (keep in mind with YA, this is a whole different ball of wax…)
I bet some of you are rethinking those tears in your third chapter, am I right? Well, my intention was not for you to rewrite your WIP, but if these questions prod you to create a more realistic emotional timeline that gets you closer to publication, then I have succeeded!
Tell us a few of your life or character obstacles and how you chose to show the emotions to your readers. Did some of the reactions catch you off guard? Or, just say hi!
Comment below and your name will be in the hat to win a free spot in one of my online classes offered through Lawson Writer’s Academy.
Thank you so much for popping over to WITS today! It’s an honor to be here. In fact, I’m going to be honored to be here the last Friday of Every Month on WITS! So, come back! MUCH more to learn!
Tiffany Lawson Inman (NakedEditor) claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. Here, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. She teaches for Lawson Writer’s Academy and presents hands-on-action workshops. As a freelance editor, she provides story analysis and editing services.
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