I love watching writing videos on YouTube. Often it’s information I already know, but listening always inspires me to get back to my own writing. (I’m almost done with the first draft of my third manuscript, guys! Eeee!)
That said, sometimes I stumble across a gem of insight. That happened to me yesterday when I watched novel editor Ellen Brock’s video on how to describe emotion in your novel without being melodramatic or cliché.
Why do I love her advice so much?
- Because soooo much writing advice gets our brains stuck on showing, never telling, when telling is a useful tool.
- Because there’s a ton of advice out there that only encourages writers to show emotion in cliché ways, like “her hands clenched into fists” to demonstrate anger.
- As Ellen points out, no one in real life is 100 percent transparent about their emotions at all times. We’re more often concealing what we’re really feeling.
The key is, as Ellen says, introspection.
“What your character thinks, how they interpret the world, how they interpret their emotions — that is a lot more important than what they feel,” she says.
“If you pull a gun on someone, pretty much everybody in the world is going to feel afraid in that situation. But that doesn’t tell the reader anything about your character. That’s not special, that’s not unique. That’s just the obvious reaction to that situation. What is special and unique is what your character thinks.”
Ellen also gives some examples of what this looks like in Stephen King’s novel Misery, including how he uses this technique in combination with showing or telling, so definitely give her video a watch!
I’ve always felt this way about describing emotion in my gut, but it’s so helpful to have someone else validate that idea and put it clearly into words.
What do you think is important about showing, telling, and describing emotion in a story?