Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Poker Face

While I am loathe to admit it, when I go to court, I am usually humming Lady Gaga's Poker Face.  I know how to maintain a stoic expression in the craziest of circumstances (I didn't flinch when I had a client rip off her wig during a deposition and shake her tresses at opposing counsel; I continued to sip my Pumpkin Spice Latte and look bored). While this mad skill helps me tremendously in the legal profession, it has worked against me in my writing.

I have a quest; I must find a better way to show the emotions my characters are experiencing. Trust me, as a Southerner, my first inclination is not to tell you how the characters feel. Southerners tend to bury emotions in a deep dark pit that makes the abyss look homey, but that is an entirely different blog post. So, my professional experience leaves me void of ways to show emotion, as does my upbringing. I need to find a muse to help with this, because my current efforts are, well . . . lacking in style.

My current techniques involve a lot of things going on with the eyes. They squint, glare, and avoid glances. I've also invited appendages to the party.  I have shoulders slouching, hands balling into fists, and feet shuffling. But none of this seems to express the sentiment my characters are feeling. I would love new ways to show emotion for my characters.

Maybe Lady Gaga can help (but in case she can't, I'd love to hear your suggestions).


14 comments:

Carla Swafford said...

What a perfect time for Margie Lawson to come this July. Her workshop is called "Empowering Characters' Emotions." LOL!

I have to work on that too. Usually in the second go around in edits I add little things, like tics or expressions (besides glares and eyes opening wide) to my manuscript. It's the little things that can make a difference.

Chris Bailey said...

My father wanted me to have two middle names--Reserved and Stoic---but he never mentioned it. My mother, on the other hand, ran, screaming, into the back yard in her nightgown to roll in the morning dew because she had a hot flash. Based on that childhood, I think sipping a pumpkin spice latte and affecting a bored expression IS an emotional response. That's exactly what I would do.

Lexi said...

Heather, I think this is something we ALL struggle with as writers. It's hard to show emotion rather than tell it. I find this a hairball, too, so I will be interested to see what other folks say!

Samantha Grace said...

Heather,

I can relate to keeping a poker face in professional interactions. Working in mental health, and now the medical field, it's a great skill to cultivate. But I almost had to pick my jaw off the floor when an elderly couple asked me if I knew what pasties were. My response? Do you? Turns out they were referring to these pies that look like calzones. (Thank goodness! That wasn't a discussion I wanted to have.) :)

I bet you read people all the time in your work, but it's a trick to transfer that to paper, isn't it?

Kat Jones said...

I'm with you Heather. I have difficulty writing outside the box & describing a character's reaction with more than an arched eyebrow, grimace, or glare. :-)

I'm hoping that using these types of scenes from my WIP in writing exercises will help me.

Heather said...

Carla, you know I will be camped in the front row for the workshop, trying to soak up all the knowledge and technique my body can handle!

Heather said...

Chris - I am still laughing at the image you conjured of your mother.

Heather said...

Lexi - go check out Samantha's blog post (Ladyscribes - http://ladyscribes.blogspot.com/2011/05/showing-character-emotion.html#comments), she has some great suggestions for showing emotion.

Heather said...

Samantha - I love the pasties story! I think you responded to the couple in the best possible way. Thanks for stopping by our blog!

Heather said...

Kat - I need to be doing the same thing!

Louisa Cornell said...

I think it is especially hard to convey the emotions of men. Try doing it in a novel set in an era and country where men essentially weren't supposed to HAVE emotions!

At times I use the little things people do when they are nervous or cocky or afraid - playing with the tassel of a cushion, leaning against the coolness of a windowpane on a rainy day, closing a book with a bang. Is that the sort of thing we're talking about?

Christine said...

Hi Heather--great post and definitely something I struggle to add in with unique tics and internalizations. It's hard! Then there is the internal conflict tugging against the external conflict and that yo yo to deal with. I am SO EXCITED about the Margie Lawson Workshop!! Can't wait and marked my calendar!

Heather said...

Louisa - you raise a great point. I am in awe at how historical writers can demonstrate emotion for their heroes. I like your suggestions about using the little details.

Heather said...

Christine - I'll save you a front row seat next to me for the workshop. I am going to be taking copious notes.