Emotions are hard.

Catbus dislikes your prose.

My beloved gave me some constructive criticism on my writing recently, and of course I handled it maturely.

Which is to say, I was dismissive, hurt -and jerked my knee REAL HARD. Rejecting what she said out of hand, and refusing to accept any remote validity to her statement.

Fifteen minutes later I realized she had a point.

Then I pouted for a day or so.

Then the crying.

And now that I’ve processed, I’m ready to obliquely admit that she had a point, a small point.

[Read: She was completely right.]

Her criticism was:

Since you write in third person exclusively, you have a tendency to not show character’s emotions. I understand that you’re trying to “show, not tell” — but I’d like to get more inside the character’s heads, and get a sense of their emotions. [Heavily paraphrased, she’s the one with the eidetic memory.]

I read back through a few pieces, and I can totally agree with this assessment. And while I’m always going to err on the side of allowing my audience to make their own conclusions about characters — I feel this is a tool I need to be able to master, because it can be extremely effective.

So, my question is: How do I do this, without my stuff sounding like a Harlequin romance?

I can’t just write “The mage was sad. Her sadness was strong, and full of more sadness.”

Can I?

Opinions, suggestions, and examples if you got ’em!

10 thoughts on “Emotions are hard.

  1. the tough part about trying something new out with your writing is you do sort of have to start from square one (i.e. the mage was sad.) it will probably sound terrible to you, and that might because it is terrible, but the point here is that you’re trying something new. like anything, you do it more and you get better at. i’m sure there are tips and tricks of the trade i could give you if i had any, but all i can say is do it. eventually you’ll be happy with it.

    • But I hate sucking at things. Very much hatred. 😛

      Thanks for the advice, though — this is the day of me admitting other people are right.

      I pray this does not become a habit.

  2. Start with simplicity (i.e. The mage was sad). Add complexity to it if you need some internal dialogue explaining why the mage was sad.

    The mage was sad. He’d had that toad familiar since he was in diapers. So much love…affection…gone! Wiped away by that brutish oaf swinging a broadsword like a drum major’s baton. Fury welled up with the destructive magic inside him… or something of that nature.

  3. Sad is okay – sadly is not. I don’t exactly agree, though. Giving your readers credit for being able to reason out why someone does something is a good thing, isn’t it? I’d rather everything wasn’t spelled out for me. If I have to think about motivations, then I’m involved in the character more – and it becomes want to think instead of have to think.

  4. Yea I’m just starting to write and it is hard to really get emotion without sounding either overly simple or like a bad YA story. There is hat fine line of showing not telling, but making the “show” part clear enough. I like the start of Jason’s bit, run with that Jason, I would read it.

    • I know, right? My gut reaction is to never have a character come right out and state implicitly how they are feeling, or have the omniscient narrator do it for them. But, I’ve seen it done well, so I’m trying to take a stab at it with the piece I started today.

  5. Work on your verbs. You don’t need to say ‘the mage was sad’. You can say ‘The mage sulked over his wine.’ Better yet: “The mage swirled the wine in his glass, sneering at his reflection as it was warped by the burgundy liquid.’

    Don’t use ‘to be’ constructions to describe emotional state. Ask, instead, what a character in that emotional state would say, do, or hold themselves. Consider this: how do you, yourself, know when somebody is sad? Take that information and extrapolate into descriptive language. Don’t tell–just show with more nuance.

    My .02, for what they’re worth.

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