This is the seventh installment of my New Novel blog series. Last week I wrote about making an unlikable protagonist sympathetic.
I’ve been slowly but surely plodding along on this first draft of my new novel. I feel comfortable with my character’s voice and I enjoy writing from her POV. My supporting characters are interesting. The story is always on my mind. All good things, #amiright?
So I recently shared an important scene with my writers group because I needed some feedback. Something didn’t feel right but I didn’t know how to fix it. Long story short, their advice was to add more emotion to the scene.
When I revised the scene with their advice in mind, I was super excited about the result. *I don’t typically revise as I’m drafting, because I think it’s important to just keep writing and to keep moving forward. But adding to this scene was necessary to regaining my momentum.
Let me tell you what emotion is NOT. Emotion is not melodrama. If your character is angry or upset, he/she does not need to sob or fall weak-kneed to the floor in order for you to get this across.
So what is emotion? It’s what your character is thinking/feeling at any given moment. It’s your character’s reaction to being fired from his/her job, or meeting a new friend, or losing a loved one. Reaction is key.
WHY is the emotional aspect important? WHY should we give the reaction more attention/emphasis? I’ll give you 3 reasons.
If your reader does not feel connected to your protagonist, if they could care less about your protagonist’s situation, they’re likely to stop reading. This is especially important for me to remember because my protagonist, Gwen, is somewhat unlikable at the beginning. (I wrote about this predicament last week!)
So when I shared the latest scene with my group, they told me Gwen wasn’t really internalizing her feelings. Readers want to know what your POV character is thinking and feeling, and internalization is key.
They pointed out a few strategic places where I could amp up Gwen’s emotional reaction. For example, they were interested to know what was going on in Gwen’s head when she began interacting with another character.
The scene was important to me because it directly followed the inciting incident of Act 1. Therefore, this scene is largely about Gwen’s reaction to the inciting incident (the event that sets the story in motion!).
I received this comment from one of my group members: “Let 1st impression/reaction [to character x] show how things have changed.”
While writing the scene, I’d forgotten that everything Gwen is experiencing should be colored by the events of the inciting incident. She has a new perspective on her situation and the other characters. Therefore, she’ll make different decisions based on new information. She’ll be asking new questions. And as Gwen is processing her emotions, I have to tie it all back to the plot.
You don’t want to tell your reader that your protagonist is angry or upset or excited. Rather, show your character reacting emotionally.
In the scene, my protagonist Gwen is exhausted and annoyed. She’s still reacting to the inciting incident of the story, and she isn’t given much time to process it before she’s thrust into another surprising situation. So now she’s angry. In my head, I could visualize Gwen’s anger/anxiety and her resulting facial expressions. But it was difficult translating this into words.
My writers group recommended The Emotion Thesaurus. The thesaurus lists the physical signals, internal sensations, and mental responses associated with 75 separate emotions. For example, the book reminded me that someone who is angry might be sweating, cracking their knuckles, glaring, breathing noisily, or baring their teeth. Internal sensations include grinding one’s teeth, quivering muscles, a speeding pulse. I could then choose the “tells” that made sense for my character.
Hope this helps! Have you faced similar challenges? Please share your thoughts! As always, feel free to contact me if you have a question. 🙂