Friday, September 26, 2008

From ACFW: Emotions In Writing

It was Saturday afternoon, and I was exhausted. I'd just climbed down off the bus, fresh from the book signing at Mall of America, where I'd been inundated by the sights and sounds of a mega-mall populated by a never-ending stream of people. Before that, there'd been a ninety-minute class, an appointment with an editor, and a hurried lunch. I didn't want to be around people. I didn't want to listen. I didn't want to be told my writing needed to be taken up a notch. What I wanted was a cold Diet Coke, a quiet place, and a soft bed. But I resisted the temptation. Instead, I attended a workshop by Susan May Warren on adding emotion to your writing. And I'm glad I went.

We all know that fiction needs emotion to keep the reader's interest. But we can't just write, "Scott was angry." That's level one. Third grade writing, if you will. So, how about falling back on the use of adjectives. "Scott spoke angrily." Will that do it? Nope. Mark Twain suggested seeking out adjectives and killing most of them. Now we're up to high school level writing.

Even if there weren't a label on the movie flyer above, it would be pretty easy to deduce that Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson are angry. It's evident in their posture, their facial expressions. If we could see them in motion, we'd see that their actions are angry ones. That's what we need to do as writers. Try this for size: "Scott felt his collar grow too small. He balled his hands into fists and planted them on his hips. 'You can't mean that,' he spat." That's anger.

I'm sure you can do better than that. I hope I could as well, given enough time, but maybe this example will be enough. Give the adverbs a rest. Convey emotions through the scene, the characters, the action. Put your reader in the character's mind and body. Show their emotion. That's good writing.

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