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August 30, 2010

Handling Emotions

Photo by alasdair.d
Some of the toughest scenes to write are those in which emotions reach a crescendo.  It's easy to get carried away, creating melodrama, or to dodge the true feelings, creating instead a vague scene filled with cliches intended to convey emotion. As well as being the toughest to write, these scenes are often the key to drawing the reader in and giving the story its impact.  Getting the tone and pace right takes multiple revisions, and I always keep in mind the advice I received from Gerry Shapiro on a rough draft: "Remember that when you turn the volume a bit lower on the emotional level of the story, readers lean in to get closer, and in doing so, become more emotionally involved in the story.  If you turn it way up, readers tend to pull back."

For today's exercise, select one of your own emotion-packed scenes for revision.  Remove all the adverbs.  Hunt down and take out any dramatic dialogue tags or cliched physical responses (I've cut out enough racing hearts to qualify as a serial killer, yet drumming pulses still keep showing up in my drafts).  If internal dialogue explains the characters' thoughts or feelings, delete that, too.

What remains after those alterations?  Does the scene elicit the feeling you're hoping to convey?  Does it seem too sparse?

Imagine the details that make your characters and the particular situation unique.  Using those small, solid components, rebuild the scene on its existing framework without including any emotional shortcuts or melodrama.  When you're done, compare the original to the re-worked scene and decide which is stronger.

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