Friday, July 8, 2011

How to inject emotions without looking like a beginner

A friend of mine recently forwarded a rejection letter he received for one of his books. The agent's reason was that the book lacked emotions, something I've been telling him for a while, but he didn't want to listen, so he learned the hard way.

I told him to get a huge syringe of emotions and inject it into the writing and scenes where needed. His answer was that he then would have to use adverbs a lot and he didn't want that. This got me thinking. Do writer really think that using adverbs are the only way to showcase emotions? Personally, I don't use them a lot and still manage to bring emotions across. Here are a few examples of how to change lazy writing (adverbs) into a more skillful one:

Example 1: "I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me?" he asked shyly. 
"I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me?" he looked down.
"I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me?" he asked, playing with his car key.
He shuffled with his feet, then mumbled, "I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me?"
"I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me." Is he blushing? she thought, how cute!

Example 2: "Did you even listen?" she asked, angrily.
There was no point in hiding her anger. "Did you even listen?"
"Did you even listen?" her voice was full of anger.
"Did you even listen?" her question mirrored her anger.
"Did you even listen?" Wow, he thought, she really is angry.

Example 3: "Hey, it's not my fault," he replied, defensively.
"Hey, it's not my fault," he replied, holding up his hands (in defence).
He listened for a moment, then crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Hey, it's not my fault."
He shook his head and shrugged. "Hey, it's not my fault."

Of course those are just some examples. Emotions can be displayed by a lot of things. If a MC is sad, then they can cry, tears build up, spill over, shy people look down, away, shuffle their feet, hide their hands, bite their lips, play with something in their hands, stammer, etc. Angry people make fists, shake them, their voices change, their facial expression changes, their temples pulsate, etc.

I'm in no way saying adverbs done have a place in writing, and some just can't be replaced, but there are always ways around it. Each time when you are about to write one, try to play with the sentence and with the scene, you will be surprised how many you can actually swap for a much better description.

If you have some more examples, please feel free to add.

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