When you write fiction it’s important  to convey to the reader exactly the emotion of the moment. Not tell them (“She felt sad.”) but show them.

Let’s say that her good-looking boyfriend has just announced that he is breaking up with her. She might feel anything from total devastation to great relief. How will you show her feelings?

The extremes are fairly easy – she hits him over the head with a frying pan or she sweeps him into an embrace “Oh, thank you. That’s wonderful”. You leave no room for the reader to misunderstand.

But what about more subtle emotions? She might be fearful of being alone, thinking how to find another room-mate, annoyed because she had plans for the weekend, glad to be free because she has met this other man.

How will you show her emotion? You can  state it:

“Oh, no! I’m scared to be alone!”

But that is still a bit obvious. You’ll pull the reader further into the story if it has to be figured out.

How about something like:

‘She sucked in a breath and her shoulders tightened. He wondered for a moment if she was going to cry but instead she turned to him, her eyes pleading. “Couldn’t we try again? One more time? Please?”‘

OK, maybe I laid it on a bit thick but you get the message. Let the reader do some of the work of understanding what is going on inside the character’s head. The reader doesn’t have to understand it fully right away but the characters reaction will drive further actions.

Maybe she will plead for another chance and become a compliant and obedient mouse, fulfilling his every wish until one day she smartens up and realizes there are worse fates than living alone. Or one day he realizes he can’t stand compliant women. Or one day she finds another room-mate.

Maybe, to go back to the man breaking up with the woman, the woman is just mildly annoyed at now having to find another room-mate. The milder the reaction, the harder it is to show reaction with any subtlety. Perhaps she shrugs, or yawns, or says “Don’t forget you’ve got some clothes in the dryer.”.

This is unlikely to be the reaction that drives the rest of the story unless she is faking it and bursts into tears the moment the door closes behind him.

And there’s also the man in the scene to consider. What is his body language saying? He can’t just stand there. Is he showing anger? embarrassment? fear? annoyance? How will you reveal his feelings, other than saying ‘He was angry’? Or ‘he yelled’?

Take time to pick out the body language, the gestures, the hesitations you need to reveal emotional reaction. But don’t give it all away – allow the reader to use imagination. That’s why we read.

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