Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wearing Your Heart on Your Face

In a questionable post on The Blood-Red Pencil titled "Show Visceral Reactions First," Maryann Miller explains how to get readers more involved in your characters and thereby more involved in your story:
Start with their visceral reaction. . . . These reactions occur immediately, before any thought processes or deliberate actions, so it’s important to show your character’s visceral reaction first, to mirror reality and put your readers inside the character’s skin, feeling the fear or embarrassment or shock or anger right along with them.

Next, show an immediate thought-reaction. . . Note that these sudden, short thought-reactions are usually italicized, both for emphasis and immediacy, and to indicate a direct thought. . . .

Then go on to show the character’s other, slightly delayed reactions, such as their words, facial expressions, body language, and actions.
The problem is that writing like this for all your characters reveals only one type of character: the one who cannot hide emotions. Not that I believe Miller advocates writing exclusively like this for your character reactions (though she omitted such instruction from her post), but I would like to take this opportunity to encourage my writers to make sure their characters represent a wide range of voluntary and involuntary reactions.

In my experience, characters of deceitful or dubious nature are the ones who most often conceal their visceral reactions. If their thoughts showed on their faces all the time, plot twists would be a whole lot harder to deliver with surprise! If the character you're going for represents honesty and integrity, however, Ms. Miller's advice might be exactly what you should heed to make your audiences feel a deeper level of connection to your writing.

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