Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Art of Feeling: The Role of Emotions in Scenes

Emotions in scenes reveal character
Why show emotions in scenes instead of telling how characters feel? Because readers like discovery it respects their dignity and intellect. But how do emotions function, what should they reveal, and how can writers deal with their own discoveries?

The best approach to writing an emotional scene is to reveal character and advance plot, preferably both at once.

Here's an example:

Bill slammed the garage door. "I told you I didn't want you coming home until you found work."
"But, Dad." Dave slouched against the car. "I'm not cut out for anything."

In two lines, the characters show who they are, how they relate to each other and several major problems.

Caveat: Writers sometimes include information that's new to them, but shouldn't be. Describing Dave as tall in this scene wouldn't add anything, but saying he slouched hints at the same and reveals his mood, if not his personality.

Tip: Writers often make their own discoveries while writing scenes, and wonder whether what they've found is a legitimate character trait, or an anomaly. When you discover something new about a character, rather than stop the scene to ponder it, complete the scene to see how it plays out. Then give yourself time away before rereading the scene and considering how the discovery affects other characters and the plot. If you keep the scene, revise it for as many main characters as are in it. Consider setting a character.

What difficult scene are you working on?

Happy writing!

For more on writing, visit Adele's Online Workshop.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Find the Heart, and You'll Find the Tone

To emotionally invest in a story, readers need to trust the writer, and a writer who creates a serious story with a tongue-in-cheek tone is suspect. Irony and disingenuous narrators aside, it's best to match tone with story and theme.
Match tone with story and theme

While the tone of a piece can vary somewhat by scene, it's best to be consistent throughout. A work can be satirical, ironic, somber, exuberant, even triumphant. Each tone has a spectrum, but it varies by shade, not color. An uneven tone leaves readers questioning the characters, the real point of the story and, ultimately, the writer's motive.

How do you find the tone that best matches your piece? One way is to distill the story into a log line — a description of the work in 25 words or fewer.

Here's an example:
A woman with Alzheimer's fears she won't get the chance to tell her estranged daughter she still loves her.

What's the action word? Fear. It's the heart of the story, and sets the tone of the piece. The log line also sets the story's context, because it shows whose tale is being told. Yes, the work is partly about the daughter, but it's mostly about the mother's fear of unfinished business, and important business, at that.

To find your tone, it's important to know your story and your characters, but especially to know the heart of the piece. The "this is a story about" core of it. Keep that before you, and you'll keep an even tone — and an even keel.

For more on this important element of fiction, see "The 3 Most Important Elements of Fiction Writing," by Magdalena Ball.