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EMOTION IN YOUR PROSE

June 14, 2019

Back in 2014 I wrote an article called Avoid Flat Emotionless Prose. Here, I want to expound on that a bit.

No character should be flat and emotionless. It makes for a pretty dry read. However, what about a character that either has no, or little emotion by design?

This is the main gist I wanted to cover in this discussion.

NON-EMOTIONAL DOESN’T MEAN NO-EMOTIONAL

Many writers have been accused of flat and emotionless prose. “Just the facts Ma’am” can mean many things, like clean narrative, but that doesn’t mean the characters just give off a flat performance, with no nuances.

No matter how unemotional a character is, they’re still emotional. It can’t be helped.

Just describing a character as unemotional makes them somewhat emotional by describing them that way. It makes them guarded, or deliberately neutral…something along those lines.

Maybe they’re keeping their feelings in check because of a past trauma.

Maybe they’re a sociopath.

Maybe they have some mental condition preventing them from showing emotion.

As a writer, you need to convey that explanation to the reader, or…drop hints along the way that something is up with that character and give a big reveal at the appropriate moment.

By giving the character no emotions, draw the character so that he or she reacts specifically without emotion and draw attention to it so the reader is as aware of those reactions as they are of someone who is off the scale with emotions over everything.

Drawing an unemotional character as “unemotional” solves the problem of the character being that way and gives the reader something to grasp instead of just doing it and leaving the reader wondering why this character is so flat and uninteresting.

HOW DO THE REST OF THE CHARACTERS REACT TO THE UNEMOTIONAL CHARACTER?

Another way to react to an unemotional character is by how your cast of characters react to him or her.

I have a main character in one of my series who, while not unemotional, is very restrictive with emotion. While emotions exist, it’s often how the rest of the characters react to this that draws out the drama when the main character does something emotional. That keeps this story and character from being flat and emotionless.

There’s also a big reason for this character to be so unemotional, while still being a lot more emotional than he or she will ever admit. That comes out in the stories a little bit at a time.

If you have a character that’s unemotional or flat, fine, as long as you have a way for the other characters to react to that flatness. This reaction takes place of the lack of color from that flat and emotionless character. Then, have a reason why that emotion isn’t there.

NOT EVERY CHARACTER HAS TO BE A SOBBING MESS

Okay, a bit of exaggerating on the emoting side, but you should get my point.

Some characters have more emotion than others. Normal characters should be colorful, have quirks and a normal set of emotions to make them interesting.

Some will be off the scale with emotion.

Some will be off the scale with little or no emotion.

This last group are the ones that need to be handled with care – they’re the ones I’m mainly talking about. If they’re not addressed properly, the reader will be jarred by them, ignore them, or worse, put the book down if the character has a significant role.

Unless…

You give them weight with logical reasons for that lack of emotion.

Something for the reader to latch on to.

SUMMARY

Dynamics is the key to making a story interesting, besides the plot, and getting from A to B.

The way you draw characters is key because everyone can relate to characters in some way, no matter how alien they may be to themselves in real life.

Even unemotional characters have to have some way to connect.

Give the reader those ways to connect and you should be fine.

Happy writing!

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