Lesson Two

Lesson 2: Express Emotion As Action In Your Writing 

This is the second lesson in the How To Show And Not Tell In Short Stories course.

NOTE: If you want a downloadable, printable PDF of this course, you can buy one for a small fee from our store. The workbook is an advert-free, easy-to-download version of the online course.

In the previous lesson, we used an example to explain what show, don’t tell is and why we should do it. The reduced word count for short stories makes it important that our words have more than one function.

‘Showing’ the emotions of our characters is a challenge because emotions are an inside thing, right? How do we ‘show’ what a character is feeling?

An overly simplified, but effective way, to think about emotions is to imagine your scene as if it were a scene in a movie or a play. Remember, you are not writing a screenplay, but we can learn from the basic principles. In a screenplay, we don’t have the luxury of internal thought to ‘show’ emotion. We need to ‘show’ our emotions as action.

“I feel like people are always speaking with their eyes, their bodies, their hands, gestures, intonation, and their words – only mostly all we hear are the words. And the words get in the way. So if we just spoke with our eyes, we might get closer to the truth.” ~Jaclyn Moriarty, A Tangle of Gold

How do you act when you’re angry? When you’re happy? Disappointed? Embarrassed? Our actions convey, and even betray, our emotions. Our characters’ body language conveys their state of mind, what they are feeling, and how they feel about the situation and other characters.

Example 1

Tell: He was angry at the employee.
Show: “You incompetent idiot!” He slammed his fist on the table, “What the hell am I paying you for?”

Example 2

Tell: He texted that he loved her, but she didn’t know if she was ready to text it back.
Show: She stared at the message for the longest time watching the red heart pulsate on the screen and, with a sigh, she pressed the button sending a thumbs up.

Example 3

Tell: She didn’t like her daughter-in-law. She wished John had married someone else, even after the children were born. Everything the woman did infuriated her.
Show: The Christmas card was everything she loathed about Candice. She snipped the picture leaving only John and the boys visible. Her smiling daughter-in-law landed softly in the trash.

Exercises

Rewrite these telling sentences by showing the emotion.

  1. He was angry.
  2. She was happy.

Recommended Reads:

What’s Next?

In our next lesson we will look at zooming in on your story.

Click here for Lesson Three

NOTE: If you want a downloadable, printable PDF of this course, you can buy one for a small fee from our store. The workbook is an advert-free, easy-to-download version of the online course.

Posted on: 8th April 2020
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