Capturing Emotions on Paper: storyteller or spiritual guide?

Dear Daughter returned to us from speech camp.  I think her week-long hiatus from home was the hardest on our geriatric black lab.  You see, Kallie and DD have a special bond.  They share suckers (yep, Kallie knows how to lick them), sandwiches (tiny nibbles that would make a tea party hostess proud) and even bites of ice cream off a spoon (okay, eccentric bond may be the better description of their relationship.) 

Picture 11:45 on Saturday night.  Car doors slam and DD stumbles in under her bags.  Her first stop is the laundry room. 

Mere words cannot capture the reunion between the two.  Kallie’s tail wagging woke the dead as it banged against the wall, and her tongue dried out from licking DD.  Apparently she had to fit an entire week’s worth of affection into 37 seconds.  She followed DD out of the laundry room where she eyed her with more devotion than I have for my own DH (and I love him more than the day we married!)

When I reached down to pet her, Kallie’s entire body trembled.  Tiny shivers that tingled my hand and made goosebumps travel up my arm.  As DD hit the top of the stairs, Kallie nearly sprinted (quite the feat for an old lady with  one good leg) and followed DD to bed–a green quilt covering a cozy mattress next to her BFF.

Now, I can’t say for certain that Kallie was happy to see DD, yet we’re guilty of saying these things all the time.  It is human nature to apply our own emotions, experiences and interpretations onto others.  We see something and presume we can relate how other individuals feel or what motivates them, because–well, because that’s how we feel and therefore, it must be right.  Right?

Yet, there are all kinds of wrong with making assumptions–especially if we are writing a novel.  In fact, one of the hardest things for writers to do is maintain a solid POV during emotional scenes.

We tend to attach telling words:

  • He shook his head in defeat and refused to look me in the eye. 
  • She looked at me with hunger in her eyes. 
  • He draped his arm over my shoulder to protect me from the laughter.

Yep, these are all examples of applying the POV character’s perceptions onto another character.  It happens easily and often goes unnoticed even after numerous edits.  The outcome, however, is a lessened sense of connection to the main characters and the unfolding events.

Alternatives:

  • His chin drooped toward his chest.  He shook his head slowly, once to each side, and refused to meet my eyes. 
  • Her eyes sparked, nearly burning me as they traveled up my body. They lingered on my bare chest longer than necessary.
  • He draped his arm over my shoulder, protecting me from the laughter behind us.

Sometimes I think the term storyteller is wrong.  As writers, we should strive to do more than tell readers our story.  We should resist the urge to provide an emotional roadmap to our readers, complete with rest stops along the way. 

  • Defeat Drop Off.  Proceed with caution. 
  • Sizzling Springs Ahead.
  • Motivation Mountain.  In case you missed the clues from chapter 17. 

Are you a story “teller”, or do you allow your characters and readers the freedom to experience emotions and motives as they unfold?  How can we, as writers, successfully guide our readers to the right conclusion without drawing an emotional roadmap for them to follow?

Curious minds want to know?

 

 

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2 responses to “Capturing Emotions on Paper: storyteller or spiritual guide?

  1. I’m currently reading Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress as a part of my ROW80 challenge and she has a wealth of advice on this subject. Showing is always the more powerful choice. “She cried” is not as powerful as “She banged her fist on the table in frustration, her eyes filling with tears”.

    Great post, Cat!

  2. Pingback: Storytelling Paper 85x11

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