Missed part one? It was yesterday.
Emotions – dialogue
Dialogue is one of the best ways to reveal emotions, but it can also be overused.
If you only use dialogue to reveal emotions, the reader doesn’t quite get into the character’s head. They’re an audience at a play, not inside the character’s skin.
Use dialogue in conjunction with thoughts, physical reactions, and actions in order to give your reader the full effect of the character’s emotions.
Many times, the greatest emotion is conveyed by what the character doesn’t say.
This is called subtexting or “cross-talk.” Sometimes it is also referred to as “off the nose” dialogue.
Sometimes, you read dialogue and can take it at face value. Other times, there are subcurrents under the actual words said, meanings deeper and perhaps even the opposite of the dialogue.
Those subcurrents make for juicy, conflicted, tension-filled dialogue.
For a good example of subtexting (with commentary), read the Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine September 2006 edition.
One of the best books on subtexting is Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins. If you haven’t yet read that book, go out and buy it now!
Dialogue is war:
Randy Ingermanson puts out the Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine, and in one of his articles he talks about how dialogue is WAR.
It doesn’t mean people have to have shouting matches at each other, but people should be fighting with each other, usually with subtexting and emotional undercurrents.
“All dialogue had better have conflict in it FIRST. That means two characters talking who have opposing interests.” –Randy Ingermanson, Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine
For example, Character A trying to withhold information from Character B, and Character B trying to get Character A to ’fess up. Or Character C trying to get her point across to Character D, while Character D is holding fast to her denial.
Conflict and undercurrents in dialogue are what make your reader feel the emotions of the character.
Emotions – actions
Actions and body language are terrific tools for showing character emotion. When coupled with dialogue, physical reactions, and thoughts, the reader gets a complete picture of what the character is feeling, and better yet experiences those feelings with the character.
First off, don’t resort to cliché actions like running a hand through his hair, or throwing a glass/vase/figurine at the fireplace. You’re a writer, be creative! Think of things more unique, and yet suited to the particular character.
Also, make sure you go in order of how a body would react. Usually it’s physical reactions and thoughts first, then dialogue, then actions and body language.
Scarlett O’Hara didn’t stamp her foot first and then feel her head sizzle with anger. She had a physical reaction first and used her foot stamping to punctuate her emotions.
It’s not always this order of events, granted, but this is the typical order of things according to inertia—it takes more effort and more neurons firing to speak and act than it does to have a knee-jerk reaction or think certain thoughts.
When your reader reads a character acting a certain way, to an extent, the reader feels himself act that way, too. When Scarlett stamps her foot, the reader can almost feel the thump of the boards under her heel at the same time.
That’s why actions are so vital to help your reader experience your character’s emotions.
Use character actions judiciously and with great creativity. Actions and body language can really pull your reader into your character’s head and body.
Go through your manuscript and look for where your character is reacting emotionally. What’s the order of things? Is there a disconnect or do you have a good order? Do the character’s actions make the reader feel the character’s emotions?
Use your judgment
Obviously, you're not going to use all four emotional reactions every time your character feels emotion--that would be overkill--but use your own judgment.
If an emotion is a strong one, use perhaps 3 of the four reactions (although make sure you use visceral since that's the strongest reaction, and if you have a strong emotion, you want a strong reaction).
If an emotion is minor, use only one of the emotions (and probably not visceral).
Basically, mix and match things up.
However, BE WARNED: Do not use predominantly one type of emotion reaction all the time. For example, don't use thoughts most of the time to show emotions, or actions.
Mix them up. Use a lot of variety.
If you don't mix things up, your emotional reactions lose their power. The reader is distanced from the characters rather than feeling and experiencing their feelings.
Whew! That was a lot of info yesterday and today. I hope that was helpful! I know my Seekerville sisters probably have stuff to add to this. Any good examples, guys?
Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Her novel Single Sashimi is out now, and she runs the Story Sensei critique service. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every week and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveaways!