Tag Archive - Show don’t tell

Evoking Emotions in Readers in a Masterful Way – Part 5

I’m picking up where we left off a couple of months ago, looking at the masterful writing of some amazingly talented authors. I want to revisit the topic of evoking emotions since that is one of the most difficult things to achieve yet so very crucial.

Surprisingly, there are very few blog posts and books that address this topic. Writers are told to “show, don’t tell” in order to draw readers into their stories. But we all know that “showing” a character pointing a gun at another character, and even showing the character is trembling or sweating, doesn’t ensure readers will be tense or scared or shocked.

If you’ve not taken the time to read the previous four posts in this series, I highly encourage you to do so. Start with the first one here. We write to evoke a response in our readers, and the primary purpose of fiction is to elicit an emotional response. Think about it. Readers of fiction aren’t reading to acquire facts, such as they might do when studying a nonfiction book. They read to be entertained, affected. They read to be tense, laugh, worry, get excited. In other words, they read to feel something.

And your job as a fiction writer is to masterfully write in a way that will evoke a specific emotional response in your reader. You may not be able to name exactly what those emotions are, but you should know what those emotions feel like when you experience them.

To reiterate: we’ve been looking at the way thoughts lead to emotions, and how getting into our characters’ thoughts can be a powerful tool to evoking emotion in our readers. When we show what our characters are thinking, via the narrative or direct thoughts (when in their POV), and even in dialogue (whether in the POV or not), we can sense what they might be feeling. Sometimes the feelings are obvious, but masterful writing will imply the complexity of the character’s emotions. Continue Reading…

Masterful Telling of Emotion

Today’s guest post is by Nina Schuyler. It continues our look at masterful writing, introducing the element of emotional content in our novels. The craft of not only expressing emotion  in our characters but also evoking emotion in our readers is one of the most important things to master in fiction writing. In this post, Nina Schuyler shows us that telling about emotions can be just as powerful as showing those emotions in your characters.

Early on, when I was young and innocent and studying writing, it was vigorously pounded in my head that I must never ever tell a character’s emotion. T. S. Eliot’s “objective correlative” entered the conversation (events, objects, and actions must stand for or correlate to the desired emotion), along with fiction’s allure, which is to give readers an embodied experience—or as George Saunders tells storytellers, “Go forth and delight!”

But now, having read more, studied more, gotten older, I’ve encountered plenty of published works that tell the emotion. It’s right there, in big letters, winking at me—HE FELT. SHE FEELS—sad, happy, joyful, angry, embarrassed. And I do experience the told emotion. How is this possible? What’s going on?

The magic is in the way the telling is done. Continue Reading…

Masterful Narrative Scenes in Novels

Show, don’t tell. Yeah, we know that’s the rule. But there are times when scenes can be masterfully told by the POV character. Sometimes a character is telling a story, relating a memory, and if done well, it’s just as gripping as if the scene were played out in cinematic fashion.

I haven’t seen much written on the “narrative” scene, but this is a technique that suspense writer Lisa Gardner excels at. While narrative scenes can be in first or third person, the most effective ones I’ve read are in first person. What makes for great narrative scenes is the character voice.

In fact, the lack of that voice would risk boring readers. To me, openings of many best sellers (which we’ve examined in many of the First Pages of Best Sellers series on this blog), which are mostly narrative, are plain boring. And that’s because they lack a strong POV character voice.

We looked at some excerpts from Ron Hansen’s novel The Assassination of Jesse James and noted how his writing style or author “voice” made the narrative riveting (at least to me).

These are two different things. You may have an overall writing style like Hansen’s that infiltrates every page such that the only times you really get the “character voice” is in the dialogue. The storytelling voice can be consistent throughout a novel and set a specific tone or patina over the story. Hansen’s book, as I noted, reads like a biography, and I believe his choice of this stylistic voice was deliberate, to give this effect. Continue Reading…

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