Monday, April 19, 2010

Character Emotions

I recently began to re-work a project I had previously put on the back shelf. One of the issues I had with the project is with my supporting character. I suppose one could call her the antagonist although her true antagonistic nature is not revealed until near the end of the story. You see, she is the best friend from high school of my main character. In this story she may or may not have poisoned her husband.

what does this have to do with character emotions, you might ask? I've that one of the issues that I've had with this project is how this character (best friend - antagonist) should show her emotions. She is secretly furious because she believes her husband is cheating on her and senses the person he is spending all his time with is setting him to rob his bank. I've pondered much about just how I can let this character show some of her anguish and hurt and still hide it from her best friend.

I finally decided (after the third re-write of the entire story) that I will emphasize the emotions that the antagonist does NOT show, rather than what she expresses outwardly.

Many authors feel the need to push their characters to show emotion in their actions and dialogue. Oftentimes though, this need to express the emotion, in an attempt to add depth to the story, ends up with more telling rather than showing.

I recently read a book by Ann Hood called Creating Character Emotions. Overall, it was a well-written book full of insightful thoughts on how to get your characters to express emotion through action (or during action; or action because of emotion). But, I believe there are instances when one might allow their characters to express emotions through what they do not say. Some folks have the ability to hide their emotions and do not need to slam their fist on the table and yell explicatives.

Some authors are great at this. I am a fan of Lee Child's Novels feature the Jack Reacher character. Throughout his stories, Jack Reacher will be depicted as "not answering" or "saying nothing." There is much emotion shown when Jack Reacher does not say anything because one knows that he is really "emotionally" saying very much.

I suppose that one cannot write this way all the time but, once you give the reader a chance to get to know the character, this may be a good method of allowing a character to physically suppress emotion while while still allowing the reader to sense some deep emotional conflict.

I am trying to use this approach with my character hiding her true emotions. The one thing that one must be aware of is this: while a person may be able to suppress emotion in their dialogue or action, there should remain some telling feature. I like to allow my character to hide emotion but try to write in something that betrays their attempt.

For instance, the character may be telling her best friend that she is surely overreacting about her husband cheating, maybe even laughing about it, but she may be ringing her hands or holding onto her purse or the table with a white-knuckled grip.

This method is, of course, merely a suggestion - something I am learning. But I do believe that just as much can be said or conveyed through this type of telling action as through normal character actions and dialogue.

Tell me, what are your thoughts on this?