Monday, July 16, 2012

So Emotional!!

Well, I'm not emotional (at the moment,) but our stories always should be. Emotion is what drives the tale and keeps us reading, makes us feel invested in the characters. It's also probably the hardest part of crafting a story. How do we invoke that emotion and connect the readers to our characters? What's the trick?

There are no cheats when it comes down to this most important ingredient. It boils down to hard, dedicated, and sometimes grueling work for the author. And it it's done right, it appears effortless and seamless to the reader. That's why I wanted to share this invaluable writing tool with you:


If you haven't heard of it yet, do yourself a favor and get it immediately! This writing guide by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman is chock full of useful tips and information. Most importantly, it works like a typical thesaurus, only with emotion. Too many arching eyebrows or gritted teeth in your story? No problem. Simply determine your character's emotion and find it in The Emotion Thesaurus. It offers lists of alternate body languages to bring your characters and stories to life. After all, that's what adds the emotion to our stories. When our characters feel, the readers feel.

Besides this awesome book (which is in paperback as well as eBook,) Becca and Angela offer a blog called The Bookshelf Muse, which has been instrumental in the crafting of my most recent story. Not sure how many times I perused their blog for character traits during the writing process, but it was a LOT!

As luck would have it, I recently met Becca at our regional SCBWI conference and she's fantastic, as expected. And of course, Angela is as well. Both are so down to earth and friendly and just all around shiny happy people. :)



Becca stopped by today to offer one of you a free eBook copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. All you have to do is comment and I'll do a random drawing. (I've got mine downloaded on my Kindle and keep it open while in the revision process.)

Here's a snippet from The Emotion Thesaurus that Becca has allowed me to share:

By definition, nonverbal emotion can’t be told. It has to be shown. This makes it difficult to write because telling is easier than showing. Here’s an example:

Mr. Paxton’s eyes were sad as he gave her the news. “I’m sorry, JoAnne, but your position with the company is no longer necessary.”
Instantly, JoAnne was angrier than she’d ever been in her life.
This exchange is fairly easy to write—but not so easy to read. Readers can figure things out for themselves. They don’t want to have the scene explained to them, which is what happens when a writer tells how a character feels. Another problem with telling is that it creates distance between the reader and your characters, which is rarely a good idea. In the preceding example, the reader sees that Mr. Paxton is reluctant to give JoAnne the bad news and that JoAnne is angry about it. But you don’t want the reader to only see what’s happening; you want them to feel the emotion, and to experience it along with the character. To accomplish this, writers need to show the character’s physical and internal responses rather than stating the emotion outright.
JoAnne sat on the chair’s edge, spine straight as a new pencil, and stared into Mr. Paxton’s face. Sixteen years she’d given him—days she was sick, days the kids were sick—making the trip back and forth across town on that sweaty bus. Now he wouldn’t even look at her, just kept fiddling with her folder and rearranging the fancy knickknacks on his desk. The vinyl of her purse crackled in her grip. Clearly, he didn’t want to give her the news, but she wasn’t about to make it easy for him.
Mr. Paxton cleared his throat for the hundredth time. “JoAnne…Mrs. Benson…it appears that your position with the company is no longer—”
JoAnne jerked to her feet, sending her chair flying over the tile. It hit the wall with a satisfying bang as she stormed from the office.
This scene gives the reader a much better opportunity to share in JoAnne’s anger. Through the use of sensory details, a well chosen simile, specific verbs, and body cues that correspond with the featured emotion, readers can see that JoAnne is angry, but they also feel it—in the straightness of her spine and the cheap vinyl in her hands, in the force it takes to send a chair flying across the room simply from the act of standing.
An example like this also reveals a lot about the character. JoAnne is not well-to-do. She has children to support. She may be angry, but she’s also strong minded, family oriented, and proud. This information rounds out JoAnne’s character and makes her more relatable to the reader.
Showing takes more work then telling, as word count alone will indicate, but it pays off by drawing the reader closer to the character and helping to create empathy. Once in a great while, it’s acceptable to tell the reader what the character is feeling: when you have to pass on information quickly, or when you need a crisp sentence to convey a shift in mood or attention. But the other ninety-nine times out of a hundred, put in the extra work and you will reap the benefits of showing.

BIO
Becca Puglisi is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with 75 different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. The Emotion Thesaurus is available for purchase throughAmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. A PDF version is also available at her blog.





Big thanks to Becca for sharing this! And don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win an eBook copy of The Emotion Thesaurus! Trust me, you want this! 


Do you have trouble showing character emotion? Have any tips you wanna share? Love to hear from you! :)

37 comments:

Kyra Lennon said...

This is a truly great book, I bought it a couple of weeks ago, and I can't get enough of it! :D

Susan Roebuck said...

I bought it too. It sits on my desktop ready and waiting for when I need it (which is a lot). I have trouble with people being disturbed or thinking about a knotty problem. There's just so much jaw-stroking, frowning and raking his hands through his hair that I can do :-)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I still need to download it.

Jess said...

What an incredible resource! Thanks to Becca for stopping by and to PK for hosting :)

shelly said...

PK this is great! I'm going next to follow that blog b/c sometimes I do get stumped when I'm trying to describe an emotion. And if I don't win I'm putting this book on my Chrismakah list.

Karen Walker said...

This sounds like something I definitely must have. Having written nonfiction for so many years, this is an area in which I need a great deal of help.
Karen

Barbara Watson said...

I've heard so much about this (and often visit The Bookshelf Muse) but do not yet have it. Don't enter me in the giveaway, however, I don't have an e-reader. I will have to purchase the paperback!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I have my copy! And you can be sure it will be sitting at my right hand as I work on upcoming revisions to my recently finished first draft!

Miranda Hardy said...

I met Becca last year at the conference. I wish I could have made it back this year. Would have loved to have met you, too.

Johanna Garth said...

I want a copy! In revisions I always notice I'm relying on too many of the same devices.

Donna Yates said...

Sounds like the perfect book to read. I have often caught myself 'cheating' in my writings, esp when I am tired.

Cally Jackson said...

I've been meaning to buy this book for ages! Thanks for the reminder. :-)

Roger Lawrence said...

What a great book. It would be like having a teacher leaning over you with a ruler and ready to pounce. I wonder if it's available on Kindle.

Jay Noel said...

I've so often wanted some kind of tool like this. Wow!!! I do a lot of editing as well, and I cross out a lot of the overused trite emotional descriptors.

You can only arch brows or grit teeth so many times. Now if I can only find another way to describe someone nodding.

DL Hammons said...

The book was just delivered this weekend! It's been recommended all over the blogosphere, but I haven't cracked it open yet.

Time to go follow another useful blog! :)

Medeia Sharif said...

I need to get this book.

The revised scene is much stronger.

Deana said...

It's so easy to get caught up in the same verbage to describe emotion. I really need to read this book. Thanks for the heads up:)

kittyb78 said...

I love this book. Since it's release, I never write anything without it. XD

Becca Puglisi said...

Kyra, Susan, Diane, DL and Kitty: Thanks so much for getting a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me.

Jess, Deana, and Cally: you're so welcome. Honestly, Angela and I wrote the book because our writing needed so much help in this area. I love making it available to others.

Shelly, Chrismakah! I love it. Between that and the contest, hopefully you'll end up with a copy :).

Karen, Joanna, and Donna: My characters were always shrugging, shuffling their feet, and smiling. Like, ALL THE TIME. The Emotion Thesaurus has helped with that, though I still have to search and destroy all the smiles...

Barbara, the giveaway is a PDF copy, which you can read on your pc, so that still might be an option for you.

Miranda, we'll have to catch up next time! And Medeia, I think we've attended a few of the same Florida SCBWI conferences; we'll have to meet up in the future!

Roger, the book is available for kindle at Amazon.com.

Jay: Oh, the infernal nodding! For me, instead of trying to re-describe the same actions, it's easier to find another action that expresses the same thing. So instead of nodding, someone could lean forward (showing interest and agreement) or become more animated in other ways.

And good luck with the giveaway everyone!

Angela Ackerman said...

PK, I think it's awesome that you got to meet Becca in person! She's one of my favorite people and such an amazing author. I feel so lucky to have her in my life!

Thanks so much for hosting her and for the kind words about The Emotion Thesaurus!

Happy writing!

Jennifer Ruth Jackson said...

I've never heard of the book before you mentioned it. I will have to check it out sometime.

Lexa Cain said...

I completely agree with your judgment of letting the reader 'see' the emotions. Yes, Bookshelf Muse is awesome.
One question though. "spine straight as a new pencil" Are old pencils bendy and crooked? lol

Ardyth said...

I actually was asked by my publisher back in 2008 to "show" my character's jealousy more instead of saying she was jealous. The Bookshelf Muse had just a handful of entries at that point, but I went straight there to the one on jealousy and it was a great help. I'm excited its been expanded and made available in so many formats and done so well since its release.

Becca Puglisi said...

Hi, Ardyth! I'm so glad you were able to find some helpful cues at The Bookshelf Muse.

Lexa, I guess in my mind, a new pencil is perfectly straight and more square-edged. A used pencil is pointy and gnawed and the eraser's worn halfway off, so it's not as 'straight'. Maybe my years in the classroom have tainted me toward used pencils, lol.

fOIS In The City said...

PK, sorry I am late. It's done. Bought it last week. Love it. Will learn much :) Thanks so much for introducing your readers to Becca.

This is an amazing tool for all of us :)

T C Mckee said...

Ooh, thanks for sharing. I sooo need this. Er...my characters need this. They're all over the map. Me loves!

cleemckenzie said...

Great book for writers. Can't say that enough.

LTM said...

Look at you cuties! That's so cool that you got to meet Angela! This book is invaluable to writers. And that example is fantastic.

Thanks, guys! :o)

Angie_Fayre said...

I need this book something awful. It explains the problem with my writing. I will purchase this if I don't win. Thanks so much for letting me know about it (and writing it!). Putting it in Amazon wishlist! :-)

nutschell said...

Oh yes I bought myself a copy of this book. Loved it!
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Stephen Tremp said...

Thanks Becca for sharing and its great to meet you! This is an excellent example of showing non verbal emotion. I "got it."

jamieayres.com said...

Love their website . . . so helpful during editing. At first I"m all about plot and getting things down and then I go in to add the details when I reread chapters:-) Thanks for sharing!

Leslie S. Rose said...

The Emotion Thesaurus sits on my desk next to Elements of Style. I use it constantly. The ET and The Bookshelf Muse blog are musts for every writer.

Christine Rains said...

Great post and a wonderful resource. Thanks for sharing!

olivabogyo said...

The Emotion Thesaurus is one of those books that I will definitely buy sooner or later. I love Becca & Angela's blog, too. Thanks for sharing!

William Kendall said...

I'll have to track that down!

David P. King said...

We gave a copy of this book away on inkPageant recently. Such an excellent new resource for writers! :)