Crutch gestures can sometimes get in the way of good writing. They come in all shapes and sizes–maybe an eye roll, a clenched stomach, curled fists or shrugs–cues we writers tend to overuse while trying to convey what our character is feeling.
Coming up with fresh emotional description is tough. Some writers rely heavily on the face to show feelings: smiles, eyes that narrow and widen, lips that pinch into a thin line. Others delve inside their hero to their heart rate, showing how it speeds up, slows down, skips, etc. And let’s not forget about breathing–hitched breaths, quick breaths, gasps and gulps.
Are these types of descriptors all bad? Certainly not. The fact is, each of these is a real way people express their emotion. It’s only when we rely on a clichéd rendition of showing these cues or we turn to them again and again throughout the story that they hurt our writing.
Writing fresh, compelling description to convey character emotion is one of the hardest jobs we face. It’s why Becca and I wrote The Emotion Thesaurus–we wanted a way to help writers get past that mind block that causes them to recycle the same tired gestures and instead strive to create something that fit their character’s emotional range perfectly.
To pull readers into the story, we have to provide an experience that grabs them in the gut and doesn’t let go. Writing emotion in a raw, real way triggers this, and an empathy bond forms, tying readers to our characters. Achieving this level of depth means showing, not telling, emotion and using everything in our arsenal including body language and actions, dialogue, thoughts and visceral sensations.
If you struggle with emotion, you aren’t alone.
TIP: Writing rich emotional scenes comes with practice. If you get stuck on how to express a feeling, don’t be afraid to put yourself into the writing. Think about when you experienced something similar to the character, and how it felt. How did your body react? What thoughts went through your mind? What decisions did you make? Choose a few details from real life that fits your character’s personality and put them on the page!
And, if you need some brainstorming help, check out The Emotion Thesaurus to see if it might be a good tool for you.