Monday, February 25, 2013

Why Is Everyone's Stomach Clenching?

By Julie Daines

I've been thinking about physical clichés a lot lately. And by thinking about I mean battling with.

There's this kind of evil Catch 22 thing with show don't tell. We don't want to say our character is mad, that's telling. (I was so mad = telling.) So we try to show it. But then we're stuck with a physical cliché. (I clenched my fists = physical cliché.)

So we swing back to the telling, only we try to make it sound better. (Red hot anger pulsed through my veins = fancy telling.) What's a writer to do?

I wish I had an easy answer. But writing is hard. And good writing is really hard.

We've got to figure out how to show our character's emotions in other ways that are subtle and yet get the point across.

Here are a few ways to accomplish that, but they are NOT the easy answer we're all hoping for.

  • Well written dialogue can carry a lot of emotion. 
  • Well written interiority will open the door to a ton of emotion--especially if that interiority includes motivation. If the character's motivations are clear, we will already know exactly how the character will react to any situation.
  • Use an objective correlative. See my post here. If you don't know what that is, you really need to, so go read the article. But like most things, less is more, so don't overuse the objective correlative.
  • Avoid naming emotions. See more tips about that here.
  • Read. Read the good books that expertly accomplish the show don't tell rule. And look out for physical clichés and other forms of telling as you read.
  • There is a place for some description of physical emotions. Just be sure to use it sparingly and judiciously. And avoid the really overused ones. (Stomach, jaw, or fists clenching, tears, all manner of breathing and heart pounding...) On the Bookshelf Muse blog, they have an Emotional Thesaurus. This can be useful for finding a less cliché way to show a physical reaction.
Those are a few I thought of off the top of my head. What are your suggestions for avoiding physical cliché? 

Julie Daines
A Blind Eye (Feb 2013)


Kasey @ Mormon Mommy Writers said...

I’m a fan of similes and metaphors, probably because that’s how I’m the most comfortable expressing my own emotions. “I was a freight train hurtling full force toward a brick wall; a confrontation seemed imminent and its consequences irrevocable. So why couldn’t I stop stoking the engine’s blazing fire?”

Alas, it is wordy... ;-)

Scott said...

when I read this, my heart jumped into my throat and I cocked my head, then I threw up my hands, because I've done this myself too many times.

Julie Daines said...

Nice one Scott!