Saturday, January 31, 2015

Show vs. Tell When Writing Emotions

I have no very scientific process for showing my readers that the characters in my books have emotions. When I have a scene to write that's going to demand a lot of emotion on the page, I try to mentally place myself in the moment (versus just writing with the flow, which is good for my first draft but doesn't encompass all the little movements and stage business and etc., that will help the reader relate to what the character is feeling. Takes second draft for me to get there usually!).

I'm sure I still have a LOT to learn about showing versus telling but trust me, I've come a long way since my first stab at writing!

Rather than tell here, I'll show. A scene from Magic of the Nile, set in 1550 BCE:

          Tyema forced her lips to curve in apparent good humor and nodded at the appropriate points as best she could, finishing the day’s work and finally escaping into the private garden a few hours later. The whole time her fingers itched to pull the private letter out of her pocket and read it. The baby was unusually restless as well, perhaps sensing her own inner turmoil.
            She sat on her favorite bench, under a large acacia tree, next to an unruly bed of chrysanthemums. Taking the scroll out of her pocket and balancing it in one hand, she stared at it for a long moment.  Resting the other hand on top of her swollen abdomen, she said, “This is from your father, little one. Do you think he’d write me if he bore me ill will?” It warmed her to think she’d been on Sahure’s mind, wherever he was. “Well, only one way to find out.” 
         She broke the seal with her fingernail, sending little shards of red wax falling to the pavement, and unrolled the scroll.  The writing was bold, slashing black hieratic.  From Sahure, Captain in Pharaoh’s Own Regiment to Tyema, High Priestess of Sobek in the Ibis Nome, may the gods grant you life, prosperity, health. Now posted by Pharaoh to take command of the Southern Oasis. I think of you often.  His personal cartouche was scrawled at the bottom of the papyrus. 
               A bit disappointed, Tyema flipped the scroll over to be sure she hadn’t missed anything. “Not lover-like in the least.” She remembered how proud he was of his station as a warrior. “You never claimed to be a poet, did you, my love?” Shaking her head, she levered herself from the bench. It was frustrating to be so big and awkward. “Still, baby, it’s a tremendous promotion for him.  Huge responsibilities.”

 And the dangerous, remote Southern Oasis isn’t a place he’d take a wife to, so maybe he hasn’t gotten married yet.  Immediately Tyema took herself to task. It was no business of hers where he went, what he did, who he did it with. She’d refused him for her own compelling reasons and nothing had changed. Glancing at her belly as the baby kicked hard, she laughed. “Well, all right, one thing has changed, even if Sahure remains unaware.” 
As she walked into her bedroom, her smile faded. Now that I know where he is, I’m going to have to tell him about our child. He deserves to know. Deciding today wasn’t the day for composing a demanding letter, she pushed the thought away. Time to change out of her simple dress into a robe suitable for singing the evening devotions. But first she put the scroll inside her ivory-and-turquoise embellished keepsake chest, pushing the papyrus to the back, under her tattered doll from childhood and the dried red petals from the flower Sahure had placed in her hair.

Or here's a scene from Escape From Zulaire, set in the far future in outer space, where the
heroine is in a very tight spot:

She stared past the guard to watch the landscape flowing by, trying to make plans, but ideas tumbled one after the other in her mind, useless fragments. The prospect of dying like some old-time sacrifice was too terrifying for her mind to hold. Andi felt herself detach from reality as the vehicle came to a smooth stop beside a partially harvested field of grain. She had the sensation of watching someone else yanked from the vehicle and dragged across the rough ground. That woman twisted, struggled and screamed curses at her captors in four different languages, but Andi remained safe in her quiet cocoon of unreality.
This is not happening to me.
Everything will be all right.
At the center of the field the guards yanked her to a halt, forcing Andi to kneel. Small pebbles and jutting roots dug into her lower legs and knees, the pain snapping her back into harsh reality—this was happening to her, and it was all too real.
As the men held her in the kneeling position, her enemy clutched his long hunt­ing knife in his right hand. A wave of cold determination gave her renewed strength. No, he’s not doing that to me. I won’t make my death easy for him.
Fueled by adrenaline, Andi fought to stand, surprising her captors and actually breaking loose for a second or two. 

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