Monday, January 10, 2011

Never Name Emotions

By: Julie Daines

How many times have we heard, “Show don’t tell”? So many times that it goes in one ear and out the other? So often that we’ve stopped considering what that really means?

Here’s one quick and easy way to spot telling: Any time you use the name of an emotion to describe the emotion, it’s usually telling.

Examples of telling:

Anger burned inside me.

Relief flooded through her. (Any time an emotion moves through a character’s body, it’s telling.)

A melancholy sadness filled Amy’s soul like the last song of the whippoorwill. (Definitely better than the first two, but still telling.)

“I hate you,” John said angrily. (Avoid ly words--because it's telling!)

The goal instead, is to SHOW us how those emotions feel, what they look like, what they sound like…

So, when you find yourself writing the name of an emotion, ask yourself, Can I show this in a better way?

Let’s try again:

If he smirked at me one more time, he'd be going to the dance with a black eye.

She leaned back in her chair, her shoulders finally relaxing.

Amy sat on the back porch resting her chin on her knees. The last song of the whippoorwill carried across the frosty fields, empty now that the harvest was over. …

“I hate you!” John turned and slammed the door. Jane cringed with every footstep as he stomped down the stairs.

Take home lesson: Do not use the name of an emotion to describe an emotion.

1 comment:

Scott said...

The reason emotions are telling is that these words are almost always abstract. You need concrete details to draw the reader in and help them feel what the character feels.