When he thought about her, he was sad.
If “he” is a supporting character, and the reason he was “sad” about “her” is not critical to the story, then I would be fine with the description. But if there is any significance to his sadness, “her” or the circumstances around either of them, then I’ve been a very lazy writer. Lazy, not because I didn’t write enough (though I didn’t), but lazy because I didn’t undertake the mentally exhausting exercise of turning inward on myself to feel the reason for his lowered mood.
Authors are human (most of us anyway…I’m not so sure about Stephen King who seems to write at inhuman speeds with exquisite emotional conveyance). And because most of us are human, we have all experienced the full range of human emotion. Our characters take on life, or fail to, based on our ability to tap into that experience.
He sat and stared at the wall. It had been hours since he had moved. The sullen weight that pressed his shoulders threatened to topple him, as if stacks of books had been balanced there and the slightest movement would send him, and them, tumbling. The desire to move wouldn’t come, trapped deep in his chest and mixed with the mourning that gripped him.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Logically, he knew she wasn’t really there…gone these two months. Ripped away like a piece of himself, leaving a raw, aching hole that flexed and grasped with no warning, plunging him back into panicked despair.
“Nothing,” he replied aloud as if she were there to hear him. “Just lost in my thoughts.”
“Are you going to dream the day away?” she asked with a chuckle, her voice nothing but a faint echo.
He felt burning moisture at the corner of his eye–Sad tears. Angry tears. He pressed them tightly and took a slow, shaky breath before rising, no longer caring about toppling over…if he fell, he’d fall.
“No,” he muttered, smiling thinly and taking unmotivated, slow strides toward the kitchen.
Now we have an idea about what’s going on. Yes, there are a lot more words, but the emotion that is painted across the page begins to pull the reader into the story. And yes, I pulled this from my own emotional experience. Though I didn’t experience his loss, I have experienced loss of my own and am able to “channel” my character and what he is feeling.
If you use your words to convey precise exactitudes, the reader will have all the information, but they won’t have the emotion. That’s fine for writing history or tech manuals, but the goal in fiction is to immerse the reader in your story…your world. There should be no frugality of expression, especially in a first draft. The emotion should be described in as rich a detail as you can muster. Then, then you can go back with the line edits and thin your prose to be more impactful and less repetitious. When dealing with emotion, you don’t even have to conform to strict grammar or spelling precepts (though your editor will most likely disagree). Mid sentence pauses, dead-end breaks in sentences, made up wordishness…these are all tools to convey your emotion and story. If your editor has a better suggestion, you have the option of accepting or rejecting the red-line.
I’ve found that most authors who have difficulty conveying that richness are somewhat restrained in their own emotional rendering…in real life. For those authors (or anyone) I would recommend finding the container where you store your sensitive rawness and learn to release it. That takes reflection and often times, hard work on yourself.
For the other authors, though…those who pour flowery deluges of emotion dripping wordcraft: Get an editor who can trim your unwieldy bramble of sense. Convey only what you need to in order to paint the story. Once you’ve locked in on an emotional target, do not proceed to beat the reader with wave upon wave of repetitious scene painting–it loses it’s meaning after a very short period of time.
If you liked this post, then please like this post 🙂 S.L. Shelton is the author of an Amazon Bestselling Political Thriller Action Espionage Series, (The Scott Wolfe Series). Follow him here on WordPress, on Twitter @SLSheltonAuthor or Facebook. He will love you for it. And if you like the posts, click like (likes, follows and reviews are the best way to get authors to write more.)