Ignoring our emotions in the real world can literally cost us our lives; consider the most significant benefits of fear (escaping a house fire), despair (bringing help from others) and anger (the flight or fight response). Just as emotions are critical in real life, they are critical for the “life” of your story. A book without emotion will be D.O.A. And if that isn’t enough of a reason to give emotions their due attention, here’s another: Emotions directly impact character motivation.
We all know better than to bore our readers by “telling” emotion (e.g. he was sad), but can you show emotion without relying exclusively on raised eyebrows, widened eyes and other overused descriptors?
You can, and the how of it can be found in better understanding emotion itself.
Paul Ekman, in his book Emotions Revealed, says that in his multi-cultural study, he found that facial expressions for most emotions are universal—and there are more than 10,000 unique expressions. It usually takes a well-trained actor to command facial expression; the rest of us may unwittingly reveal ourselves in micro expressions—tiny moments of emotional leakage.
Ekman also talks about thresholds for revealing emotion: we all have them. What will it take to make you angry, sad, happy? These thresholds are pretty well set in us, although they can be reset if a person experiences “intense, dense (repeated again and again)” emotions, like pain or fear over a long period of time. (Ekman sites a nightmarishly long episode of intense physical pain as the impetus for resetting his empathy for others’ suffering.)
Imagine a few possibilities: [Read more…]