Hearts on Sleeves

Fridays are now dedicated to writing exercises and other fun stuff related to the creative process, because, let’s face it, Fridays are supposed to be fun.  Also, fun stuff is easier to come up with than real content, so this gives me a break at the end of the week.  Ha!

In writing the Erica Flynn novel, I realized that I rely almost entirely on physically based reaction for conveying my characters’ feelings.  “My heart thundered…” or “I felt myself flush…” or “I stood up shakily…” etc.  Now, I think it’s good to lock emotion into a character’s body, because we DO have physical side effects to our feelings.  It can be a good way to show a character’s own particular manifestation of an emotion, too – does she have a really strong grip because she constantly clenches her fists?  Then anger is probably more than just a momentary feeling for her; it’s part of who she is.  Does the character glare at other people when he’s mad, or look down at his hands?  One of those tells me he’s aggressive (or at least confident!) and the other says he’s a guy who bottles stuff up and/or feels powerless for some reason or another.

There are a few problems with relying solely on physically based “tells” to convey your characters’ feelings, though.  One, in the case of my novel, was that my characters were dead.  Since part of the setup was the removal of the physical aspect of their emotions, I couldn’t use my own favorite tool.  That’s what made me realize how much I used it.

Another problem is that it’s very easy to fall into cliché stuff about hearts pounding and the hair on the back of someone’s neck standing up and so on.  Okay, so it’s something we all experience at one time or another and that’s WHY it’s a cliché, but a reader will skim over a phrase like that and get as much emotional impact from it as if you’d just left the line blank.  I know I’ve caught some lame clichés like this in my writing, and had to work out a more original take to fix it.

The other problem, in my case, is simply that I lean on this particular tool so much that I’m baffled when I’m confronted with being unable to use it.  Pushing past that for the Erica Flynn novel has been great for me as a writer, because the whole book was like a writing exercise to stretch my conveying-of-emotional-reaction muscle.

So my writing exercise for my beloved blog readers is this:  write a scene or a story in which emotions run high, but only one indication of each character’s internal, physical sensation of his/her emotion is given.  See how you can work around it!

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2 thoughts on “Hearts on Sleeves

  1. The six-foot teenage boy loomed over the dumpy middle-aged woman. The other denizens–mostly other teens–of the coffee shop looked on in curious impartiality.

    “Three to six is just for us,” he said. “Didn’t anybody tell you? Nobody over twenty is allowed between three and six.”

    The woman looked up at him, her stance easy. Then she grinned, showing more teeth than a grin normally displayed and opened her eyes until the whites showed around her irises.

    “Really?” she said.

    The boy blinked once, slowly, and stepped back. “But I’ll make an exception in your case.”

    “Aren’t you kind?” the woman said, and turned to give her order.

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