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Ages: 13-14
Writing Tips: Emotions
Amy Sparrow (mod)

Welcome to the first Writing Tips post especially for FaithWriters for Kids! Many of my topics will be talking about something we call “show, don’t tell.” I got to teach a workshop on that writing method at the international FaithWriters conference last summer. It was a lot of fun.

The idea is that there are two ways to write. You can TELL your reader all about what happened. Or you can take the reader and put them right in the middle of the action and SHOW them what is happening so they can experience it for themselves. Showing makes the story more powerful because the reader is getting to see it much like they do in real life.

It’s really easy to accidentally tell instead of show when you’re writing about a character’s emotions. For example, you might write “she looked mad” or “he was happy.” But in real life, people don’t typically holler out what they are feeling as they walk by, right? So you also don’t want to just write it out for the reader.

How do you know if your brother is mad at you? Maybe it’s because he yells or slams a door. Maybe his face gets red. You know by how he acts and what he says.

Look at this example I took from Dark Ninja’s story, “Domo and Elliot.” http://kids.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=21586

She returned the smile, and my heart fluttered a little at her gorgeousness.

"Hi, I'm Elliott," the amazing girl said, still smiling a wonderful smile. She held out a small, black painted finger-nailed hand. I took it willingly, and shook it a little longer than necessary.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Dominic. People call me Domo," I greeted, dropping her hand and moving my hands to my desk. I started to fidget with my hands, sighing.

"Okay, Domo." She smiled, and leaned against her hand, her elbow resting on the desk. I looked at her, and decided to start as friends, and maybe work my way from that.

Notice that DN never uses the words “flirt” or “crush” or even that the two characters like each other. She trusted the readers to understand Domo and Elliott’s feelings by watching their behavior. After all, in real life people have to use the same clues to figure out other people’s feelings.

Also, some things really don’t even TELL your reader much. For example, you might write, “Matthew was uncomfortable.” Think about it: how many different ways could Matthew be uncomfortable? Does he hurt? Maybe he’s feeling shy or doesn’t like the person he’s talking to. Or perhaps his clothes are too small or too big. Maybe he’s hot or cold or itchy. See what I mean? If you show his actions and words then we can most likely figure out what might be making him uncomfortable.

Remember, too, that when you show how your character reacts when she is happy or mad, then it tells a lot about who your character is. Maybe Sally jumps up and down and claps her hands when she’s excited. But maybe Melody is shy and for her a big smile means she’s just as excited. John might shout when he’s angry, but Ben might be even more scary when he’s mad, even if he just whispers his threats.

I’ll leave you with one last example. Which of these makes you feel more scared? Which one lets you picture the scene better?

Father opened the door suddenly. He was angry. “Get out of here!” He yelled at Jenna.

The door banged open and Father loomed in the doorway. He glowered at Jenna, dark red creeping across his face. “Get out of here!”

If you'd like to try it out, make a post called "Emotions of [the emotion] by [your name]." For example, “Emotions of fear by Amy Sparrow.” Pick an emotion and two characters. For each character, have them show their emotion, instead of telling it. Try to never write out the name of the emotion.

You can either do a separate paragraph for each character, or write one paragraph where they interact with each other. Have fun!
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