I find when I’m writing that one of the hardest things to do is to find words that convey emotion. I want to show the reader that my character is angry, while invoking the same feelings in the reader. To do this you have to describe the anger, or the character’s body language. It’s a lot more then just saying “Michael became very angry.” And it is not the easiest goal to accomplish.
While writing today I came upon a block. Yes, it had to do with describing emotion. It was aggravating to think that I have felt these emotions my entire life, I have been dealing with them, and I have watched them flash across faces right in front of me. Yet, I can’t seem to grasp the words it takes to describe them.
So here I am. I am going to use this blog to do a writing exercise that has to do with describing emotion. If you want to do this exercise with me, go for it! Remember to use the comment section to tell me how it went.
First I am going to pick a couple emotions that I want to explore. Mine are…
I chose these emotions based on what I’m working on at the moment, and because I want a challenge.
Next I want to take the first emotion, and describe it. Any and all words that come to mind, as well as body language. As I am describing it I will picture that emotion in my mind by remembering a circumstance in my life when I felt that emotion.
Ashamed, crossed arms, averted eyes, closed off, covered face, nervous laughter, jittery, stomach butterflies, flushed cheeks, lost dignity, humiliation discomfort etc…
This is where it gets interesting….
The next step in this exercise is creating a circumstance for a fictional character where he/she feels that emotion, without saying the “word”. In my case I can’t say ’embarrassed’.
Rodney laid in bed staring at the ceiling. Late as it was he could not find sleep. Flashbacks of the day kept making their way back into his head. He tried counting sheep, but they eventually fell away from his mind as bold memories demanded his attention. He was left; a slave to his mind, to relive the day over and over.
He had just got his lunch. He remembered the plastic red tray, filled with a mess of food that lunch ladies had just scooped nonchalantly into their designated sections, flying into his face when Austin casually flipped it upwards with a smack of his hand. Rodney was left with goop dripping from his face, and shaking hands.
Austin had hated Rodney ever since grade school, when days of throwing dirt clods at each other, and playing army suddenly ended when his dad was caught cheating on Austin’s mom with non other then Rodney’s mom. Rodney had never known his dad, so naively he thought his mom could marry Austin’s dad, and he could gain a dad, and a brother. Everything changed for Austin however. His parents went through a gruesome divorce, and he never came over to play again. He avoided Rodney at school, and started hanging out with a completely different crowd. For some reason he blamed Rodney for his pain, and it had looked like Austin just grew angrier every day.
It started in middle school. Rodney was now accustomed to the routine of name calling, and taunting along side his classes. This was the first day Austin had done anything physical however.
The food on Rodney’s face had fallen to the floor in chunks. His face had felt hot, and he had the sudden urge to run, and hide under the covers in his bed. His eyes blurred, and he heard laughter surrounding him, threatening to smother him. He had laughed nervously, and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Anyone have a napkin?” he had said the first thing that came to mind, anything was better then breaking down in tears. Austin grabbed a rag from a bucket that lunch helpers used to wipe down tables after lunch ended. “Here” he said throwing it in Rodney’s face “Use this”. As the smell of dirty bleach water had filled his nostrils, he heard Austin’s laugh distinct from all the others fading until Austin was finally out of the room.
Coming back to the present Rodney punched a fist into his pillow. He should have done something. He should have punched Austin instead of shamefully standing there being humiliated. He put his hands to his head, and stared into the bleakness of the night until it finally took over his mind, and he fell fast asleep.
Did I convey embarrassment in an interesting, and engrossing way?
The next step is to take the words you chose, and describe them without imagery. Basically describe some persons emotion while being in the point of view of a blind person. So how does an emotion taste? How does it smell? How does it feel?
This time I’m going to use a surprise emotion.
The tapping of Aubrey’s white cane echoed in her ears along with the noises of the city that hung in the background like a constant humming. It had been ten years since she lost her sight, and she missed it, but she enjoyed the way the world had opened up to her in a whole new way. Once she had learned to except her fate she found a plethora of new perspective waiting to be discovered. As Aubrey continued down the sidewalk, she felt something that was almost like static electricity coming from her right. There were two people next to her that gave off an intense fiery energy. The reverberation in her eardrums exploded messages to her mind telling her that there was yelling going on. “It’s your fault he died!” a women screamed. Aubrey got a whiff of body odor, and she could tell that the women was sweating. “How could you!” Aubrey heard the women’s voice tremble, and that she was breathing rapidly. A man’s voice spoke then “Please forgive me, it was an accident” his voice sounded broken. Aubrey then heard a thump, and then another thump. “How can you even ask that!” the women screamed again starting to sound breathless.
Aubrey started to walk on, not wanting to appear to be eaves dropping. She was shocked by the sudden intensity of the feelings she had witnessed. She hung her head, as it suddenly felt heavy with thought, then frowned. It had sounded like the women that Aubrey overheard had experienced a very harrowing reality. Aubrey walked on in silence.
Anger is the emotion that I used for this exercise. Hopefully you were able to figure that out before I told you. If not, tell me why. I think that this exercise was very useful, and I will use it again to explore different emotions further. Thank you for going with me in my journey of writing emotions.
Photo used from here
I would love to hear your thoughts, and comments!