Angela Ackerman – Show don’t tell pt 2

August 26th, 2015

Describing emotion: balancing show and tell

Body language and action

Thoughts

Internal sensations

Dialogue

 

Body language

In active storytelling, action is king

93% of all communication is non verbal

  • Primal instinct is at work (constantly aware of our environment)
  • We are all adept body language readers (and so are our story readers)
  • Use body language to convey your character’s comfort zone & emotional range

 

 

Thoughts

  • Should be personal
  • Flavoured with who the character is
  • Can only shown in 1st or 3rd person (omniscient does it differently)
  • An open channel to feelings, giving scope and context to what one is experiencing
  • Can show emotional progression. Eg shock to trying to rationalise to disgust to anger (Katniss in Hunger Games)
  • Avoid too much introspection
  • Focus on the source of cause, not the emotion itself
  • Triple duty: show personality, emotion and voice

 

Visceral reactions

Eg tightness in chest when anxious

Feeling heartbeat in ears

  • Show ‘inside out’ when it counts most – has to be in real order of events
  1. Visceral reaction
  2. Bodily reactions
  3. Thoughts

 

Visceral reactions are universal, and are powerful. Use sparingly in narrative

 

  • Think beyond the first thing that comes t mind (avoid cliches)
  • Write fresh imagery (think sensor) by describing what is TRIGGERING the visercal response, building it up for readers

 

Use emotional memory and sensory word painting to make readers feel what your character feels

 

Show, don’t tell – in dialogue

  • Use vocal cues (in moderation)
  • Eg talking faster when nervous
  • Incorporate body language beats
  • Body language shows what characters are doing and feeling (that they are not saying)
  • Mimic real life dialogue (interruptions, loose grammar, fragments, etc)
  • Make every word push the story forward – don’t rehash, prompt questions

 

Ask: what is your character holding back? Sometimes what a character doesn’t say is important

 

Showing hidden emotion through physical and dialogue tells

  • Vocal tics and tells
  • Body language cues
  • Overreacting or under-reacting
  • Fight or flight response
  • Personal space and posture shifts
  • Sarcasm, deflection and omissions
  • Cancelling gestures

 

Conveying traits

Who the really are is determined by what they do

  • Every action, decision and choice shows character
  • Force them to make a move, good or bad and then deal with the consequences, propelling the story forward

 

If a character is reluctant to act..

  • Challenge their moral beliefs
  • Add stress by upping or personalising the stakes
  • Poke wounds using emotional triggers

 

Revealing personality traits (Hunger games as example)

 

Pressure points  Hunger games example  Traits shown 
Temptation Bow Analytical and disciplined
Challenges Trapped in the tree Focused and patient
Success Tracker Jacker’s nest Objective and just
Failure Save Rue Efficient and compassionate
Redemption Make Rue mean something to people in the capital Bold, protective and inspirational

 

Relationships: a powerful landscape for showing

 

Personality clashes create friction and characterise

  • Helps character arc by revealing flaws and forcing a look within
  • Creates romantic push/pull tension
  • Emotionally closed vs emotionally open characters create tension (clashing with each other but creating tension)

 

When does telling trump showing? 

There are times when telling is more appropriate:

  • High action, fast paced scenes
  • Time, location or POV leap
  • Revisiting a setting or character that does not change
  • High emotion scenes that risk melodrama
  • Characterising details that do not further the story
  • Emotional repeats repeated exposure to something that elicits the same feeling or reaction)

 

 

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