Tag Archives: showing vs. telling

Bleeding Out: Transmitting Raw Emotions onto the Page

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Emotions are an extremely important part of writing well. In real life, they connect people to each other. In literature, they connect readers to the characters. Without emotions, people wouldn’t be able to feel a story, and if they can’t feel a story, then they can’t relate to it.

Think about some of your favorite stories. How did they make you feel? In all of my favorite books, I’ve felt like I’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster. I was able to experience every emotion the protagonist did, whether that was fear, anticipation, excitement, panic, dread, or love.

Our brains are wired to process other peoples’ emotions. When a friend loses someone they love, we feel that loss. When a person yawns, we yawn. When we read an article about a deceased soldier being flown home, or a lion being injured, hunted, and then killed, we experience sadness or anger, perhaps both.

When we are able to put raw emotions onto the page, readers are able to sympathize. Our emotions resonate with them.

But transferring raw emotions into our writing isn’t easy – it’s exhausting – so how can we do it effectively?

  1. We have to feel. Putting up a wall between us and our characters will only harm our writing. If we distance ourselves from our story, readers will know. They’ll be able to feel it through our words. So, imagine scenes as if you were there. Sit back and close your eyes and picture yourself in your characters’ shoes. What does each character see, smell, hear, touch, taste, and feel? Once you can clearly picture and feel a scene, then we’ll be able to write it down in a way that readers will be able to fully experience it.

An author friend of mine has gotten so sucked into her own writing before that she sometimes finds herself crying because her characters are heartbroken, or her heart is pounding and she’s sweating because her characters are filled with apprehension and fear.

  1. Show instead of tell. In some of the workshops I’ve been in, one of the most common critiques is that writers are telling a story rather than showing it. They’ll say that a character feels angry rather than showing anger. For example, “Sally is filled with anger when she sees Rex with his new girlfriend,” rather than, “After spotting Rex with his new girlfriend, Sally rushes out of the party, and when she gets home, she grabs the nearest kitchen chair and hurls it across the room.”

Showing emotion has a much stronger impact than telling it. This is because showing keeps readers immersed in the story. They are in “feeling” mode rather than “thinking” mode. If you say a character is sad, then the reader has to think of sad memories in order to experience the emotion. But, if you show sadness, instead of naming it, then the character will automatically feel the emotion.

Also, by showing emotion, readers connect with the characters, and will want to continue reading. Often when emotions are stated, readers don’t care about what happens because they haven’t bonded with the characters.

It’s not easy to let raw emotions out. It means having to dig inside ourselves to find those emotions, but it will be worth it because then our stories will successfully carry emotion.

As Ernest Hemingway says, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

How do you go about bleeding on the page?

(Photo courtesy of SeRGioSVoX.)

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That Sagging Middle: What You Can Get Away With & What You Can’t in the Middle of a Novel

There’s so much focus on writing phenomenal beginnings and endings for novels. You have to hook readers right away and then leave them with their mouths hanging open at the end (in a good way). But what about the middle section of a novel? You know the one I’m talking about…it takes up the majority of the story.

I’ve read more novels than I’d like where the action in the middle of the story seems to come to a standstill. There was an amazing, fast-paced opening, where I was whipping through pages, but then, BAM! We hit the brakes, skidded off the road, and are in a ditch, waiting for the tow truck.

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Ah, nap time.

Eventually, there’s an incredible ending, but the middle nearly made me throw the book out a window a la “Silver Linings Playbook” style.

Let me first talk about what you can get away with in the middle chapters:

  • The pace can slow down, a bit. There can be pauses in the action, where backstory gets filled in because you’ve already set up the story’s cadence, chapter length, tension, etc. at the start of the novel.
  • You can have fun in the middle section. Just because the pace slows down doesn’t mean tension does. You can expand on readers’ expectations by complicating expectations, adding a twist, turning them upside down, and more. As long as the bread crumbs remain consistent, feel free to play around.
  • The middle orients readers more to the story.
  • As with all well-written slower scenes, they prepare readers for what’s coming next. The urgency ratchets up in the following scenes, and we know the preceding slower scene is leading to all hell breaking loose.
  • The middle shows the stakes characters are facing.
  • The middle chapters are what make things real and believable, especially with character interactions/relationships.

Now on to what you can’t get away with:

  • Letting the tension slide. Yes, your protagonist is in training, preparing to fight the big battle. But readers tire of hearing who was wearing what, how many girls hate the protagonist because she’s somehow more special than them, how petite the protagonist is, how the protagonist is torn between lovers, etc. Get to the battle, please. Better yet, make us believe we’ve reached the final, balls-to-the-wall battle, and then throw in an even bigger, more badass battle afterward.
  • Information dump. Don’t pile on information. Backstory is important, but as with the beginning and ending readers don’t want to be told everything. We want to experience it. Make the information an active part of a story. As the protagonist is climbing a mountain – real or metaphorical – make the backstory applicable to present day events.
  • Having too narrow of a focus. Novels are long. They have only one main plot, but there are several smaller plotlines. And let’s not forget that our goal as writers is to make it seem impossible for the protagonist to achieve his goals. Adding variety and mixing it up breathes new life into an otherwise stagnant middle section.
  • Leaving in the boring sections. If you’re reading your own writing and want to put it down, imagine how readers, agents, and editors will feel. Axe the boring bits. Either replace them with something more exciting or just get rid of them. There’s only so much philosophical musings readers can take.

What do you do to keep the excitement flowing in your middle chapters?

(Photo courtesy of Devon Cottages.)