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Develop Your Character Inside and Outside
by Darcy Pattison
I’m working on a revision of an older story and am finding that my character is flat, lacking emotion.
Here’s what should happen: action, reaction, thought and/or emotion.
Here’s what is happening: action, reaction.
Of course, there’s lots of variation and times when either might be appropriate. But overwhelming, I’m finding that I try to imply the emotion by the reaction, but it’s not always working.
There’s this tension in writing between Telling and Show-don’t-Tell.
The tendency is to tell: he was upset.
This type storytelling was popular before the invention of the modern novel, when storytellers created as much by their own voice and body language as anything.
The storytelling mode allows you to tell something and leave it at that. Listeners expected little else.
But with the novel, we are able to delve deeply into a characters thoughts, emotions, psyche. That’s why novels will never be replaced by film, because you can’t go deeply inside a character in any other way. Telling may still be used in bits and pieces, to summarize unimportant parts of the story.
But now, we expect thought and emotions to be forefront. Even more than that, though, we expect novels to be full of action and for that action to demonstrate the emotion/thought, so there isn’t so much telling going on.
Novels, then, go deeper into story by delving into the thought and emotions of a character; but also, by demonstrating those thoughts and emotions with concrete actions. It’s the concrete actions that create the Show-don’t-tell parts of storytelling.
Full Zoom: Inside and Outside
One way to think about it is that a scene is where the “narrative camera of words” zooms in. You get the full sensory details of the story situation and full details of character emotions/thoughts. In other words, the inside and outside of the story are in full zoom.
For sensory details, you must fully imagine being the character in this situation and what they would see, hear, smell, touch and taste. For emotions, we should know intimately what s/he is going through.
For me, it’s not Show-don’t-Tell; instead, I like Show-then-tell-some.
Darcy Pattison is a writer, teacher, and speaker. She is an Arkansas resident and writes children's books. For lots more information and writing advice, along with her speaking and teaching schedule, go to www.darcypattison.com.