Paint Them Real

Sean O'Mordha   February 13, 2017   1 Comment on Paint Them Real

The main job of a writer is to create characters with whom the reader can relate using the only tool available—words. We have all experienced the sights and feel of emotions which we should  be able to convey in order to connect that bond between reader and character. By necessity, we need to expand our outward descriptions beyond just the eyes, hair, nose, mouth, height, weight, and other visible attributes.
One of the first things we might notice as an indicator of the character’s emotional state is the face. Happy, laughing, sly, thoughtful, bored, angry, enraged, dead. (Yes, dead. Their last emotions are usually frozen for all time.) How these feelings are put on display is the clue to the character’s inward feelings which may be added depending on the voice used. For these and other emotions so that the reader can understand, we might want to describe what happens to the forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, neck. It is different depending on the race, sex, and age of your character.

An Internet search for photos of the desired emotion will help.

But you need not stop at the shoulders. How does the body visually react as a whole? The neck, hands and arms, stomach, back, legs, even feet. These are also indicators of emotion, although not necessarily seen by other characters. For instance:

Rene became so toe-curling angry to nearly push them out the top of her shoe.

Of course, words need to describe the emotion you wish to use. That’s when to turn to the writer’s greatest tool—the thesaurus. A word of caution here, though. It is not wise to use words that may leave your reader in a lurch as to what you are describing, but don’t hold back, either. As example, let’s take anger. (Yes, this picture could display fear, pain, surprise, cheering, but let’s KISS – (keep it simple, silly.)

While the reading level in the United States is abysmal (50% can not read above the 8th grade level, and 45% can not read above the 5th grade level,) most of these synonyms should be understood by the general reading public. Acrimony, disapprobation, petulance, and umbrage may not. They came into usage in the 1400-1600’s and fell out of usage by the 1800’s. That doesn’t mean you could not use them, but a quick definition might be in order.

Rene was petulant, classic sudden and impatient irritation over such a silly annoyance. That’s why Charlie ran out of the door.

Which ever word(s) you chose should reflect the most accurate and forceful description, therefore a trip to the dictionary would be useful. During subsequent edits, such trips do not interfere with construction.
The upshot is to take time to research how the body reacts to various emotional events within your story and select the most appropriate word(s) that will paint a vivid picture for your reader.

One thought on “Paint Them Real

  1. Diane Lockard

    Thank you, using all parts of the body to express emotions is excellent. Reminded me of the thought, “Characters can do more besides walking and sitting,” however that appeared…


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