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The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by [Ackerman, Angela, Puglisi,Becca]

Portraying emotion is one of the most difficult things in writing. I certainly have to work hard at it, although I have improved since I first joined Writers Abroad many moons ago. My local writing group has spent a number of sessions trying to pin down what constitutes a good portrayal of emotion.

We have each brought examples of writing from published authors. I chose the opening passages of Hannah Kent’s The Good People, which illustrate grief. We have done a number of writing exercises (you might like to try these). One involved writing about a farmer who is grieving for his dead son, but we couldn’t mention the son or his death or any words that signal emotion. Instead, we had to describe the farmer’s barn and convey in the details his sense of loss. In another exercise, we had to write about someone standing on a beach looking at the sea, but we could choose the emotion. I found both exercises difficult.

After doing a lot of work on this, we have drawn several conclusions.

  • Make readers feel with the characters and evoke a reaction. They have to feel the joy or the fear or the anger. They have to care about what happens to your characters, even if they are not sympathetic personalities.
  • This means showing what characters are feeling and not reporting it to your readers. So “thought” words like thinks, knows, understands, realises, believes, wants, remembers, imagines, desires, etc. are out. Loves and hates are also no-nos. This is bad news for me.
  • Show characters’ emotions through their interactions with other people and their environment, and their actions and gestures. This means avoiding long soliloquies, which hold up the action and drag you back into using those “thought” words. Again, bad news for me.
  • Vary the intensity of the emotions. Even in a thriller, the main character can’t be scared or apprehensive all the time. It’s as exhausting for the reader as it is for the character.

There’s a lot more to it, of course. Whole books have been written about showing and not telling. Also, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you know all this, so I’m not telling you anything new. However, if you’re like me, you find it maddeningly difficult to do it well.

Help is at hand, though. Someone recommended to me The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. This book lists 75 emotions and suggests ways of expressing them, including body language. Want to convey anger, envy or joy? Turn to the relevant page and you have a range of helpful suggestions.

The book is a helpful starting point, but it’s always a good idea to think up your own metaphors and turns of phrase to describe emotions. If you rely too much on a primer, your creative muscle goes flabby.

Now I’m off to expunge all those “thought” words from my WiP…

 

    

This Week on WA 12th February
Category: Site News
Tags: writers Abroad News

It has been another busy week for many members of Writers Abroad.

Voting on the magazine versus newsletter resulted in the newsletter being agreed as a way forward for now. The what and when details yet to be discussed.

Members are updating posts on their writing plans and goals; we all know that plans are ever-shifting so reviewing and updating on a regular basis is a great idea.

The February challenges and opportunities thread is being added to all the time, and Alyson has taken up the challenge to write a really tough story with a 2099 setting in an American city. What a wowzer of a challenge and what an impressive offering from Alyson. If you haven't already - check this one out.

Angela, too, has a wonderful unicorn story resulting from last week's muses. Any publishers of stories for children out there? This one is well worthy of going to print.

And take a look at Jill's 'Bend in the River' a breathtaking piece also resulting from last week's muses. 

The Adhoccers are keeping up the beat as always, and it is really good to see new mum Luara back in the saddle. Great stories as always.

Speaking of which, yours truly attended a poetry and story telling event yesterday (Sunday) - reading from the Ad Hoc files is always fun. And swift too. It felt good to give them an outing.

As for this week - the muses are up thanks to Angela, Maggie's blog should be posted shortly.

Hope I've not forgotten anything - if I have, just holler. Have a good week all. 

This week on Writer's Abroad 5th February 2018
Category: Site News
Tags: writers abroad

Angela has posted the blog for this week on magical objects and asks whether we are writers have any superstitions we uphold and would a talisman make a good catalyst for a short story. I think it probably would - if people's beliefs are strong enough they are bound to create conflict and thus a story is born.

Jo has added the muses for this week. A wide selection including keywords, dialogue, plot and setting along with some photos. Excellent prompts for those in need of inspiration. 

A forum is open with the question of whether to replace the WA magazine with a newsletter. This subject arose at the last formal meeting. If you haven't voted, please go over and add your thoughts. 

Vanessa has posted details of an opportunity to be interviewed on expat radio - they want guests to talk about bookish issues which would probably be a good opportunity to promote your own material.

On the bragging stool this week are the Ad Hoc crew of Sue, Chris and Angela. Hopefully Laura will get time to join them again soon. Sue's interview with Bath Flash is there to read too and I know Nicola has news but she hasn't posted about it yet. 

A selection of opportunities are available on February Challenges and Opportunities. Feel free to add any more to the list.

And finally Bruce's novella Medium Rare is on the works in progress forum for comments.

Hopefully I've missed nothing for this week. Have a good writing week all. 

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