by Natalie Bright
In your mind, the characters of your fictionalized world are real. That means they experience emotion the same as real people would, and it’s that component that makes them come alive to your readers. Emotion is what elevates your characters above the problem of having flat, card-board type characters. If the story seems bland and the plot seems to drone on with no excitement, maybe you need to pump up the emotion in your characters; take them over the top.
For example, let’s think about loss. Whatever it is your character is experiencing as the plot develops, whether it is the absence of a thing, person, or familiar home, the emotion to apply is defined by social workers as “Stages of Grief”. Everyone experiences these kinds of emotion when dealing with a devastating loss. Keep in mind that people may not experience every one of the states defined below, and it might not be in the order they’re listed.
The Stages of Grief
Denial – this isn’t happening to me.
Anger – why is this happening to me?
Bargaining – I promise I’ll be a better person if…
Depression – I don’t care anymore.
Acceptance – I’m ready for whatever comes (usually last).
As a real human being, you have probably experienced some of these as some point in your own life. I remember my mother going through every one of these emotions after my father died. We decided she might need a change. We moved her into a beautiful retirement village with many other widow ladies, thinking she was settled in and healing, and then after several months she found a picture of my dad in an unpacked box. The picture took center-stage on her dresser in her lovely new apartment and I recognized my mother going through the states of grief all over again.
The writer’s rule of “show, don’t tell” can be demonstrated by physical traits or habits of your character.
Numbness – mechanical functioning
Disorganization – intense, painful feelings of loss
Recorganization – re-entry into a normal social life
Application to Work in Progress
My WIP western opens with the funeral of my main characters’ father. What types of emotion would a young boy experience? I’m thinking much the same as an adult would, except based on the experiences of a fourteen year old. Most definitely he’d be angry about being left alone.
I hope this helps you in developing your characters to their fullest potential. Keep writing!