One Christmas Eve a Jewish family decided to eat out, and the only restaurant open that night was a Chinese food joint. Toward the end of their meal, their waiter gave them little ornaments shaped like angels and mangers. As they looked them over, one of the older children pointed out how they were stamped Made in India.
The family found the discrepancy amusing – until they looked over and saw Grandpa, who had immigrated from the old country, sitting silently with a tear rolling down his cheek.
“Grandpa, what’s wrong?” they asked with concern.
“Oh, nothing at all.” He smiled at them. “I was just marveling at how in America, a Buddhist can give a Jew a Christmas present made by a Hindu.”
Part of that “Show, don’t tell” advice for writing manifests in many ways. One arena that illustrates this is when emotions come into play.
The anecdote above offers very modest examples. In the name of brevity it tells us about some of the emotions being experienced: The family was amused before they became concerned about Grandpa.
But a couple of small illustrations are also thrown in: The tear silently rolls down his cheek before he smiles.
The trickling tear might be considered a bit clichéd, but one could argue it works here because it denotes joy instead of sorrow. But if you have a character who gets scared a lot, how many ways could you convey that without resorting to making his knees knock together?
Trembling or choking back a scream or wetting his pants can provide a few options, but it might take a little research on that behavior to remind you that a racing heart or rapid breathing or an overactive imagination can also signal that emotion.
So get in touch with your feelings and write it down. Emotion is one of those aspects all genres have in common.
An overactive imagination, huh? I didn’t realize all this writing scares me that much….