Hello and welcome to the 100 Day Writing Challenge, Day 48.
Yesterday we took our first proper crack at emotions. Or rather, an emotion. And of course I’m not suggesting it’s something you can solve, and there you go. Now you’re great at conveying emotion forever more. Different books, different characters, different scenarios demand different approaches. But I do think playing around this topic helps us be more flexible and creative in our approaches: treating a big old emotion like love less as a word we can just drop into the story and more like a direction we can triangulate towards with all these environmental clues.
So today’s task is quite simple, in a sense. I want you to take the scene from yesterday – the character and the shop, and rewrite it with them feeling a different, pervasive emotion. Could be one that feels opposite, could be – if you want to challenge yourself – one that’s subtly different but close. You know, what’s the difference in what you notice and describe if a character’s feeling shame instead of sadness? But no need to do that if it sounds too taxing.
Now I’m not going to repeat this exercise any more times than today, don’t worry. I just think to really get this locked in and to emphasise the options to you, I want you to have a go at reimagining an environment that to a certain extent you’re already familiar with. What aspects of the shop does your narrative – and implication your viewpoint character – notice that they didn’t notice before? What bits do they leave out now? Where does the story slow down to go into detail? Where does it move faster, summarising? And are there any things or people or circumstances that seem quite different in this new emotional light?
And by the way, you can either rewrite the previous scene with new circumstances or, if you’re keen that this all be part of the same continuity, the character might be entering the shop on a different day. Key restriction though: don’t mention the emotion they’re experiencing or any of its synonyms.
Right. You got yourself 10 whole minutes to see this through. Are you ready? Three… two… one… go.
And you’re done.
Obviously there’s more to emotion than pure environment. We have physiological experiences – stomach clenching, a tight chest, sweating, a racing heart – and we might change our body language, hunching over, grinding our teeth or dancing. The aim here is to expand your range of options, your suite of tactics when you come to write a scene.
You can, of course, just baldly state a character’s emotional state. It’s not wrong. I do it myself. Here’s a bit from my first novel, The Honours:
She stood ramrod straight with black hair that fell piratically across her left eye. Delphine was hungrily in love with her.
There’s no subtext there. I just say it. Looking back, I wonder if the second sentence wouldn’t have been better as ‘Delphine was hungrily in love’ so we end on the most important word – I don’t think there can be any doubt who she’s in love with here. But one thing I will say – it’s important that this moment of straightforward telling comes immediately after my being very specific. I’ve described the object of that love in detail. If I’d written ‘She was really striking and rebellious. Delphine was hungrily in love with her.’ I think it wouldn’t have worked.
So being blunt, occasionally, can be very effective. Just pick your battles. If you do it all the time, it’s like you keep digging the reader in the ribs to explain the movie to them. But here and there, you might not want to leave any doubt. Sometimes it’s quickest to say what you mean.
And on that bombshell, I shall bid you adieu, which literally means ‘to God’. An odd thing to say. Mildly sinister, in fact. But there we go.