11.22.2016

Riding on an Emotional Tide

When the omniscient voice is used, the lines between the author and a character are blurred. Much of exposition is neutral: “She walked to the cupboard to get the sriracha sauce.” Personalizing that statement would seem forced, and you wouldn’t want to change it to “He watched her walk to the cupboard . . .” unless he is a peeping Tom or the like.

At the same time, though, the distance of the omniscient voice sucks vibrancy out of a scene. If she’s sick and tired of being ordered around when she’s getting the sriracha sauce, how does the husband narrate that? In other words, if you add emotions, you invite the reader to participate. 

Try using the point-of-view character’s viewpoint. To start, add in reactions to what is being observed: “She walked to the cupboard to get the sriracha sauce. He didn’t like the grim set of her lips as she returned. Sure enough, she dumped a red cow patty on his scrambled eggs. Out of pure spite.” Now the tenor of the plot event has changed completely. The last sentence has an ominous tone that promises an eruption.

You can also go beyond an immediate situation. One area in which many authors become distant is when making a long-range observation. “He was too jealous of her success and started to wonder if he needed space from her.” Whoa, let’s stop right there. Are you trying to write a novel or a clinical study? You can go deeper than that. What is the character really thinking?

Mix in anger and bring the abstract down to a specific case in point: “He was sick and tired of the way she was always picking up the check these days. So she’d gotten a big raise. It didn’t mean she should show him up in front of their friends.” You’re taking a general observation and making it personal. You focus on the petty, the way we all do. That’s the way we think—riding on the tide of an emotion. When you infuse a novel with these emotions, you allow the reader to dwell inside your characters.

Exercise: Review the manuscript with an eye out for neutral expository sentences. When you locate one, ask yourself: could this be narrated from a point of view? Who is the dominant character in the scene, anyway? What would she have to say about that observation? Sometimes you need add only a few words. Other times, you realize that the entire sentence could be reworked to let the reader inside the character’s thoughts.

“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” 
—Elizabeth Gilbert

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine


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