Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ask O: How Do I Show Non-POV Character's Emotions?

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends!

Today we tackle showing the emotions of characters in whose head the camera does not currently reside. (See last week if you don’t get the camera reference!)

I wrestle with this one all the time. Don’t you? It’s not easy!

I just finished a book with my co-writer, Tricia Goyer (Love Finds You in Glacier Bay, Alaska). My part was written through letters, so I wrote in first person point of view. I’d only ever written in limited third person, so it was great fun to try something new.

Writing this way forced me to strictly adhere to staying in my letter-writers’ heads. If my heroine was writing the letter, I absolutely had to show the other characters' emotions only through what she could perceive. It's pretty hard to head-hop when you're using first-person pronouns. If Ellie (my heroine) were writing the letter, she could say, "I was perplexed." But how odd if she said, "Clay was perplexed," without an explanation of how she could know his feelings.

Of course we must attempt to stay in our point-of-view characters' heads for third-person POV as well, but being in first person forced me to fine tune this element.

One thing I realized is that most emotions are disclosed by outward signs. Ellie could watch Clay's lips pinch together, and she’d know he was frustrated. He could walk out of the room without answering her question, and she’d know he was displeased. She could see those wrinkles near his eyes turn upward, forming a faint look of appreciation, and she’d suspect he was softening toward her.

The challenge is to use these devices sparingly and without becoming cheesy. Too many pinched lips and upturned wrinkles, and the characters will feel just as contrived as if you head hopped. So employ these outward signs, but create your own versions (don’t use clich├ęs: i.e., the furrowed brow, the clenched jaw, etc.) and sprinkle these bits of description in carefully chosen moments—don’t dump them all over the place.

Have fun with this! What are some ways you show your non-pov characters’ emotions? I’d love your input.

Happy writing!