Emotion Tells – I have discovered this subject is fraught with division. Some consider a lengthy interior monologue to be “showing”. I disagree, but if you’re a regular you know how I feel about head time.
My experience with emotion tells involves things like “heard,” “felt,” and “smelled.” The first time an editor told me to pull a “felt” I was angry. What? You want emotion, yet you’re telling me not to let the primary protagonist “feel”? Worse, I wasn’t offered any solutions. Like, well Phil, you ignorant dumb fuck, work it out. Which I did. Here it is, simpler than all the histrionics of fiction experts. Felt, heard, smelled, touched – they’re all weak. Worse, they’re filters. Using one and thinking, “Bill felt Jim’s kick” puts us in touch with Bill is fallacy. It’s pushing us (the reader) further away. Add an adverb and it’s patronizing. For the slightest moment. Emotion tells reside in the same place with explanatory dialogue tags.
Erlene hesitantly touched the stove. It felt cold. She called for Larry to come have a look. See that? I just told you about Erlene and the stove. There is no investment for the reader.
Erlene caught a breath, held it, sidled up to the stove. She closed her eyes, reached out and tapped it with her index finger. Cold. She relaxed, opened her eyes, hollered, “Stove’s colder’n a whorehouse fulla nuns, Larry. Ain’t nobody been around here any kinda recent like.”
Okay, not genius. But you get the idea. Plus, we get to know a little about Erlene. The point – Get rid of weak, lazy verbs in storytelling. Not just in tag-land but emotion-land. There are times to add some word count, and times to put gas in the weed eater. Long flowery sentences full of extra words, adios. Lengthy descriptions, adios. (Mor-on that in a later post). Words that engage and get the action out of the character’s head? Hell yes. I read an example somewhere – Bill thought the ladder might be unsafe. Well, yeah, it’s boring. The ‘Splainer went on to write an epic paragraph about Bill scaling the rickety ladder. Which was overkill for me, but if used as a tension builder, sure.
There’s still an early Deanna tell I need to fix where she “felt” her grandmother’s cold, bony hand. That was the one I got busted for. After I learned that “Deanna thought she might be pregnant, but thankfully wasn’t” was only a placeholder I had to force myself into an exercise in interior and exterior emotional shows. Liked to killed me.
Without the pill Deanna was used to irregular, but not twelve days late irregular. She wasn’t sleeping or following any of her health and scholastic regimens. She paced, worried, and cried off and on for eighteen hours before she called Alix.
“Alix, I… I did… Something. Stupid… I think…”
“Thought is most desired, my love. What thoughts most recent bring tears to your voice?”
“I… I might be… I mean I could be…”
“You have spoken with the doctor, no?”
“Instead of knowing you have made an illness of yourself with worry? You must know of your condition, my love, as worry most becomes the solution of nothing.”
“I know, I know. From facts we discern issues and from issues we discern action. But -“
“Your ‘but’ arrives without relevance, my love. Make no excuses. Discover your condition as fact first, no?”
“I haven’t gone because I know if I hear it for real, I’ll have to… decide. Something. And I’ll have to talk. Mom, Amanda, Jackson… They already hate me… “
“As you have spoken in our work, part of being a woman is to make the decisions most difficult. Without knowledge we become reckless, no? Attend the doctor. After you will know and decide as your heart speaks. Think, my love. Call me as you wish. Decide. What you need, regardless of decision, I make available to you. Do not think of the time most proper to call. Or of your mother, or of Amanda or le petite amor. We are agreed, oui?”
Deanna settled the phone, lay sleepless on her bed another seven hours hoping what she thought were cramps really were, not phantoms or from her stomach churning. She crawled out of bed as the sun turned night into a lighter shade of foggy Cambridge gray, showered and was on her way to the doctor she wished she’d never had to meet, ever, when she felt the cramps take over her abdomen. So strong she stumbled into an alcove out of the freezing mist to sit. If the cramps would just stop long enough for her to catch a decent breath… Goddammit, I have enough to explain without being late… She doubled over on the steps, her body exploded in release. She convulsed, wretched up bile, leaned against the cold, damp stone, choking back sobs.
She forced herself upright and ran. Ran like she’d die if she didn’t outrun the demons that had wrapped themselves around every moment of her life for the last month. She passed her flat and kept running, north up the river walk, past Trinity, across her baby bridge and the river into St. John’s Chapel where wet, cold, hungry, exhausted and thankful she landed on her knees two sections from the Altar. Too wasted to pray, she simply was. Extant between exhaustion and sleep. She stayed that way until her thighs locked up and she fell on her side, curled up in a ball on the padded kneeler and passed out.
A woman swishing a mop banged it on the short wooden wall separating the pews from the main aisle. “Canna fetch a priest, lass?”
“No.” Deanna pulled herself to her knees. “Hell no.” She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. “No men. No priests. No lovers, no liars, no pretenders, no perverts. No nothing. Ever. From any of them. Never. Ever.”
“There’s dead men gone six hundred years and more beneath our feet.” The woman stabbed her mop in the bucket, sloshed it onto the floor, chin pointed to a stone wall broken by stained glass. “Some woman in the ground a’side with grass for a gown as knew them would say six hundred and a stone wall’s not long enough away. Count your blessings, child.” She maintained the rhythm of the mop. “It’s a game to them, love, but our lives to us. More careful you’d be at putting it about in future, I’d say. That’s advice true as no vicar can give. Free offered, to be free taken.” She leaned her mop and walked around the corner, returned with a worn but functional lady’s Mackintosh. “’Ave this against the rain. Wrap your sweater about your waist as you leave. You’re a right mess below.” She turned, reloaded her mop. “I’ll have my Mack back and clean when you come next for a proper go at Mass.”