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Archive for September, 2012

But, How Do You Feel?               copyright 2012 by Sherry Garland

Have you ever had an editor, agent or critique buddy tell you that your story is boring; that they just didn’t “feel” anything when they read it? There is a good chance that what your story is lacking is emotion.  All humans have emotions. Emotions have been around for thousands of years and some of them are so basic that we share them with our furry friends. But making your readers feel those emotions is no easy task.

Experts tell us that human emotions can be broken down into six basic categories: Anger, Sadness, Fear, Joy, Excitement and Tenderness. Of course, there are subcategories and some overlapping.  It is perfectly normal to feel more than one emotion at once.  Riding a roller coaster may be exciting, joyful and terrifying at the same time.

For your readers to feel emotions, your characters must feel emotions. So how do you do that? Here are five tips that I find useful:

1) Put the characters into situations that will evoke feelings. In other words your hero should not just sit around the campfire eating s’mores. Make something “emotional” happen, for example, make a rattle snake crawl into the picture. There should be some heart-thumping, some shaky hands, some hard swallowing and some vocal response (shriek comes to mind). If the snake was thrown into the camp, anger will also pop up.

2) Use emotional verbs. For example, you can say: “He walked into the room.” Fine. No one has any idea how he is feeling. Change the verb and you can immediately create a sense of how the character feels. For example, each of the following sentences — “He stormed into the room” or “He skipped into the room” or “He dragged into the room” or “He crept into the room” — creates a different emotion.  Strong verbs not only evoke emotions, they also eliminate the need for weaker adjectives and adverbs.

3) Use emotional nouns. A single word can drastically change the emotional tone of the sentence. Compare the following: “Laughter filled the room” or “Silence filled the room” or “Sobbing filled the room” or “Shouting filled the room.”

4) Use the five senses. The senses help to reinforce the emotions.  For example, if the hero is happy, senses should be pleasant and upbeat — a nice perfume, a sweet strawberry, a rainbow, a singing bird. If the hero is angry or fearful, the senses should be more harsh — reeking garbage, bitter/acidic tastes, lightning/storms, pain, grating music. If the hero is sad or tender, there should be softer senses — falling rain, silk/velvet, a cooing dove, slow music, taste of wine.

5) A handy way to check your masterpiece for emotions, is to go through it line by line using different colored highlighters to mark words that evoke emotions. If you have page after page of unmarked, plain vanilla, it’s time to start getting emotional.

Using the above tips should have your readers crying and laughing and screaming right along with the characters. And that’s exactly what you want to happen.

The English language contains hundreds of “emotional” words. Below are just a few that are associated with the six basic emotions.

Anger:  Agitated, Angst, Anguish, Annoyance, Contempt, Disgust, Fury, Hate, Hostility, Indignant, Insulted, Irritability, Jealousy, Loathe, Mad/Miffed, Peeved, Rage, Riled, Resentment, Revenge, Upset

Sadness: Alienation, Apathy, Blues, Bored, Brokenhearted, Defeated, Dejected, Depressed, Doubt, Down, Emptiness, Grief, Guilt, Homesick, Hopelessness, Isolated, Listless, Lonely, Melancholy, Mope, Pessimistic, Pity, Regret, Rejection, Remorse, Self-pity, Shame, Suffering, Wail

Fear:  Anxious, Frightened, Jittery, Horrified, Hysteria, Insecure, Panic, Paranoia, Shy, Stressful, Tense, Terror, Worry

Joy:  Acceptance, Amused, Calm, Content, Delighted, Enthusiastic, Fulfilled, Glad, Gratified, Grateful, Happy, Hopeful, Optimistic, Passion, Pleased, Satisfied, Self-love, Serene, Surprise (pleasant)

Excitement:  Anticipation, Antsy, Aroused, Bouncy, Curiosity, Ecstasy, Energetic, Fanatical, Nervous, Perky

Tenderness:  Admiration, Adoration, Affection, Compassion, Empathy, Forgiveness, Humiliation, Infatuation, Kindness, Love, Lust, Nostalgia, Pride, Repentance, Sentimental, Sympathy, Trust

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