Friday, January 17, 2014

HOW TO PORTRAY EMOTIONS--THE VISCERAL REACTION

In my blog on emotion (1/16/14), we looked at ways of demonstrating the point of view (POV) character’s feelings. Why are we interested? Because story is conflict or tension fueled by emotion. In response to a motivator (see The MRU 8/26/13), an internal reaction provides the reason for the POV’s response, which moves the story along.

The portrayal of an emotional reaction within a story is broken down and shown chronologically as it happens. Immediately after the motivation, there is a visceral response followed by thought then dialogue and/or action. If taken out of order, the reader feels unsettled.

So what is a visceral response? It is the fight or flight mechanism. Triggered by a threat, the body shuts down organs not necessary for survival and concentrates on those that do. Eyesight may narrow. Attention may concentrate on a particular sound. Adrenal glands may spurt adrenaline. There may be physical reactions like goose bumps or flushing. The contraction of the muscles in the stomach wall may cause nausea or butterflies.

The visceral response is the strongest indicator of an emotion that will activate a change in the POV’s mind. If powerfully written, the story world becomes real and vivid as the reader imagines the same emotion in his own body.

Ways to portray visceral reactions are with involuntary internal and physical reactions. Here are a few:

 Emotion                         Visceral Response

 Anger            Internal: body tense, heart pounding, face flushing
                       Physical: noisy breathing, protruding eyes, veins that pulse

 Fear               Internal: speechless, weak leg joints, rapid heartb
                       Physical: frozen to a spot, shaking, hair standing on end

 Love              Internal: flutters in stomach, tongue-tied, heart hammering
                       Physical: brightening, euphoria, nervousness

 Sympathy      Internal: ache in throat, emotionally strained
                       Physical: sad countenance, deep sighs, crying

 Never label an emotion. Show it. This allows the reader to experience it. And always depict the emotion as it progresses. When a sad person finds joy, show his sadness. Have the sadness go to wonder, then to belief, then to joy.

The second phase of an emotional response is thought. Next time we’ll investigate internal dialogue.—Quinn

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