Did you ever look into the mirror as you laughed or cried? Do it, and take notes.
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Weekly Editor's Letter:
A bit about describing emotions.
Hello. I'm once again editing this newsletter and I chose a subject that gives me trouble. Studying and writing exercises helps me; I hope you find an idea or two here.
Writers have heard the term, ‘show, don’t tell’, hundreds of times. It is a basic ingredient of a good story. They know they must paint a picture of the physical scene to show the reader what is happening. These word pictures give the impressions of direct, firsthand experience to the reader. If the writer is also specific with the descriptions of hearing, tastes, smells and touches, the reader will feel he is there.
What about emotional description though. How can you describe emotion so the reader can identify it without you telling him? Practice, a lot of practice is the way. Did you ever look into the mirror as you laughed or cried? Do it, and take notes.
I drove into town the other morning and I began to notice people in the other cars. I noticed most people were frowning; well, it was early, I was probably frowning too. Some were scowling, some were tight-lipped grumpy, some just looked cranky. I wondered how I could describe those looks. I'm working on it.
I walked into the market and observed faces. No, I wasn’t staring and taking notes frantically; like some recommend, but it was very interesting. You learn which facial muscles move during a smile. You learn how the eyes may crinkle up to nothing, or become wide, round, and sparkle with amusement.
I arrived at the bakery counter in time to observe a tall, thin fellow who was engaged in an animated conversation with the clerk. His hands fluttered as he talked, fingers splayed; his eyes were sparkling, thin lips were drawn back loosely in a delighted grin, showing his too-perfect teeth.
“We enjoyed ourselves so much. We’re going to sell our house and use the RV full time. We’re going to see the country!” He said, almost singing the words, while rolling back and forth on the balls of his feet. He was fascinating. I stood and watched his motions and could feel the energy he projected. As I watched him, I wished I knew how to describe what I saw adequately.
My car was parked close to the front doors of the supermarket, and I sat there for a few minutes before heading home; now I'm taking my notes. A heavyset, middle-aged woman came stomping through the automatic doors, which she pushed, unable to wait for them to open completely. As she marched in front of my car, I, and the older man sitting on the bench outside the doors, both watched in fascination.
We saw the firm set of her mouth, the tightness of the jaw caused by clinching teeth, and the way her nostrils flared. As she moved forward, she looked only at the little space of pavement directly in front of her feet. Her arms were held stiffly against her body in direct conformance to her clinched fists.
She moved with an exaggerated purpose toward her car. In the next moment I saw a younger girl leave the store, look quickly from side to side, finally gazing trepidly across the lot. She stood motionless for a second only; I could see the motions of her swallowing, then she moved quickly toward the same car and got into the passenger seat. Neither carried a bag of groceries. As they drove away, I could see the older woman’s mouth open. The younger was sitting quietly, listening, I assume, but the look on her flushed face told me she was both disappointed and embarrassed.
My promise to myself.
Some day, I will be able to write the way I want to. I will be able to describe a scene so the reader will see it. Before that can happen though, I must study. I must read and see how other writers do it. I must practice and I will write bad pieces until they begin to be better.
I will read my reviews and join a writer’s group. I will learn to ask questions. I will begin a list of what I actually see; therefore, learning to observe objectively. I will watch the faces of my family as they react to various situations and record the results. I will be a people watcher with a notepad.
Some day, I will know how to allow readers to draw their own conclusions about the emotions the characters are experiencing. Rather than telling them a character is nervous, I will be able to show them. He may be biting his fingernails, running his hand through his hair, or moving from foot to foot while twisting his hat in his hands. If he isn’t, I will be.
A FEW QUICK TIPS
So, how do you learn to describe emotions? Keep a notebook with you at all times and use it, even if people look at you askance. If you look serious, they will be very curious about you, and wonder who you work for, and why you are looking at them while writing furiously. That’s kinda fun. You’ll get all types of expressions to record.
The time we spend waiting in doctors’ offices, restaurants, court rooms, etc. is valuable time for observations. Jot down facial expressions, movement of the eyes, the mouth, the body language. My Mother’s eyebrow jumped when she became upset. It ‘showed’ her children the scene clearly and she didn’t have to ‘tell’. My Father’s ‘stance’ differed when he had had enough foolishness. Notice gestures of fingers, hands and arms.
Research can be done anywhere, and it is never time wasted. On your next trip to the Mall, buy yourself a drink and sit down somewhere, either in the food court or the bench in the center of the Mall. Watch the people interact with each other, notice the sounds, pay attention to the dialogue. You are learning to describe all these things.
And, people watching is so much fun too.
When a character reacts to something in the story, don't just say, "He was happy," or "He looked sad," etc. Instead of saying what he felt, describe what his face looked like, the expression in his eyes, or the tone of his voice. For example, instead of saying:
Peter looked happy as he spoke.
As he spoke, Peter's face seemed to light up, his tone growing more and more excited, his words slipping over each other in his hurry to explain his thoughts; his eyes grew wide and bright, and the corners of his mouth turned
upwards in an expression of bliss.
Sounds easy enough, don't you think?
Another thought about description: Slow down.
The character is in terrible danger because he just fell from a ski lift. The actual event may take about five seconds, but it should take you several paragraphs to show it.
Build the suspense, make your readers wait; anticipation is one of the great pleasures of reading a good story.
Starr* Rathburn says; Emotion is one of the
things I try for in my stories--in the non-fiction stuff, it just sort of pours out all on its own.
That's it for me this week.
In the words of my new Governor, "I'll Be Back, but, not until after the Christmas Holidays, so I want to take this opportunity to wish you all A very Happy Holiday season, no matter the name of your holiday.
Next week's editor will be ElaineElaine
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--Franklin P. Jones
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The continuation of the above story.
Comments from our readers about Newsletter 101, which dealt with Self-Confidence
From: DyrHearte writes
This Newsletter touched on a topic I deal with everytime I share something I've written. Self-confidence and self-esteem issues are the root to why I haven't submitted anything for publication yet in my writing life. I have read some of the items listed previously and I welcome the many I haven't read until today. All are good and each item covers a different aspect of the confidence and esteem battle so that this Newsletter is a small library section of the topic.
I rate this Newsletter as one of the best I've had the priviledge to read yet.
Wow! Thank you very much, DyrHearte! We are so glad you find it helpful.
Excellent message. It really hit home for me. Wendie
Thank you Wendie. It is so important to believe in ourselves.
and from demor
Very well done. You have uncovered a common malady we all have. You might be interested in an item I have posted that deals with the problem of writer's confidence.
Diary of a Wannabe Writer
Thank you, Zeke. I posted the item above.
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Edited by: esprit
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