Digging Deeper

May 14, 2011

It is not enough to say your character is uncomfortable, or that¬†he or she fiddled with her necklace while waiting to be called into a job interview, or that their insides felt this or that way. A writer needs to dig deeper. Take, for instance, this scene from Richard Wright’s Native Son:

He wanted to wave his hand and blot out the white man who was making him feel this. If not that, he wanted to blot himself out. He had not raised his eyes to the level of Mr. Dalton’s face once since he’d been in the house. He stood with his knees bent, his lips partly open, his shoulders stooped; and his eyes held a look that only went to the surface of things.

Notice how Wright uses a mixture of internal thought and physicality to convey the character’s (Bigger’s)¬†discomfort. Wright shows us Bigger’s attitude, rather than telling the reader straight out. If you are struggling to reveal a character’s emotion, look around the setting and see if you can find an object or person to use. Then dig deep and overwrite. Find at least three sentences. Then take a break and review what you’ve created. You may not end up using it all, but chances are by digging deeper, you’ve found a fresh way to portray your characters emotions.

I struggle with trying to capture melancholy in words. What emotion(s) do you find hardest to capture?

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