clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Girl scout cookies to me define guilt. The twinkie might be more universal but for me it is the thin mint.

The empty calories represent an instant of reward with the lingering aftertaste of shame and defeat. The consumption of thin mints - a sleeve is a single serving size -  is a defeat of reason.

Guilt is a scar from a weakness of will. (Someone said that I'm sure but tonight it came from me. I cannot remember where I read everything.)

I'm looking at dialogue and what it portrays. I'm trying to ensure that my word choice in dialogue reflects the emotional state of my character. I'm trying to make sure that all the shame and guilt and embarrassment and deceit that goes into every interaction between individuals with different aims all comes out on the page.

I want my characters to drag around those feelings of disappointment - ultimately of disappointment - that creep back in around the dikes we erect in our emotional lives.

I've a character being questioned by the police. We don't know yet if he's guilty of his wife's murder but we need to know that in the face of her unexpected demise he is weighing the guilt of those unfinished sentences, the unspoken threats, all the ill-wishing that any two people exchange wordlessly when they pass from infatuation to tolerance and resignation over the course of years.

That reads like a pretty serious indictment of of the state of things between the character and his late wife. I think it is common enough.

My stories are about lies and deceit. Somehow I have to show these are lies by revealing truths to the reader.

It is only in fiction that I can tell the truth about emotion. I'd love to hear how you feel about the emotional portrayal of your characters. I have more cookies for bribes. What's a little guilt between friends?


Unknown said...

Dear J: I have to admit the thin mint cookies are my favorite. But I only feel guilty when I go by a display outside the market and have to tell them I already have too many boxes at home. But I make up for that by buying the thin mint ice cream that comes out later. I agree with what you say about the truth of emotion. You really have to dig deep to match your feelings with the characters you're portraying. Yours truly, Toe.

jack welling said...

Ice cream - ah. The forbidden food.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

We've successfully resisted the temptation of Girl Scout cookies for a number of years now, but it ain't easy. Samoas were our favorites.

Expressing a character's emotion can be tough, but it can be fun, too, as long as we remember that old warning to "show, not tell." Body language, facial expressions, nervous tics, whatever. We can inflict our characters with all of 'em to our hearts' desire.

jack welling said...

Susan, I'm having a hard time with the characteristics of emotion beyond the dialogue on the first pass. I can do better on edit but during the first rough, it seems very awkward to get them on paper. I suspect that's because even though I know the character the first time, he/she is much better developed in my mind after the dialogue.

Tough for me.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

If you're interested in some helpful tools, I have a couple suggestions for you. The first is a blog:
It's a terrific reference to help writers get past all kinds of stumbling blocks they might come across in writing, including the effective portrayal of emotions. And talking about references, the gals who run that blog also compiled some of their into into a book, called "The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression." The book covers a bunch of different emotions, in alphabetical order, and provides suggestions about how that emotion might manifest itself. I believe it's available as an e-book, but I bought it from Amazon as a paperback. When I got it, I immediately read it from cover to cover, but I haven't gone back to it yet to help me with my writing. Yet. It's great to know that it's available, though.

Another great book is by Jessica Bell. I can't recall the exact title right now, and I'm too lazy to go fetch my Kindle, but it's a very practical tutorial on the dynamic difference between showing and telling. A very quick read, and if you search on Amazon, I'm sure you'll find the book quite easily. Its title is quite self-explanatory.

Hope this helps. (If not, the next time you get ticked off at something, take notes!)

jack welling said...

Goddess. Very helpful. Will order today.