Monday, August 14, 2017

Adding Emotions to Fiction, without the beating of hearts

I've been searching for an article I read years ago about getting emotions into fiction without resorting to beating hearts or other physical reactions. Having just been told again (by the judges of the RMFW Colorado Gold contest) that my writing is lacking in emotion, I finally found it. So I'm saving it here, and figure I'll add other favorite articles to the blog, if only for my own reference.

How Fiction Writers Can Show Emotions in Their Characters in Effective Ways by C.S. Lakin

Here's my attempt to add emotion to the scene I'm writing today. Feel free to point out where I could do better (especially if you have a suggestion for how to improve!) I'd also love suggestions of books to read where the author is particularly good. s

I stopped short when a tall, brown house materialized from the whiteness ahead. It was probably a hallucination. A fatigue-induced dream. For hours—countless in the overcast, snowy night—I’d been watching fruitlessly for a shelter. At first, I’d been hopeful, scanning the hillside, barely noticing the snow deepening to cover the toes of my boots. It had crept up the ankles as I’d sang every song I knew to keep Hana distracted, to keep her moving forward. She had begged to stop and I desperately wanted to, too. Lay the tarp on the snow, fold it over to cover us. Slide into the warm, soft sleeping bags. Let our bodies rest in the cushioned warmth. But we’d have to cover our faces, somehow, to keep the snow off. Even if we could breathe under there, the hills were relentless—there was nowhere flat except occasionally right on the trail, where it hadn’t washed out. Not wide enough for three people to lie down, even if it had been a good idea to sleep outdoors in a blizzard.
Standing still allowed me to feel the cutting chill of snow inside the ankles of my boots. The snow was as deep as Hana’s knees now. It might keep coming. One spring when I was a kid, a storm had dumped eight feet of snow here in less than twenty-four hours. School had been cancelled and I’d joined with neighborhood kids digging tunnels through the streets. The memory of that joy froze like water sprayed into winter air, falling through me in icy shards. We’d had a house, back then. Not with just a fire but a furnace, with gas delivered by pipes under the house and lit automatically. A snowstorm like that, right now, right when I’d taken my girls away from the only safe place we’d known since the Collapse… we couldn’t even build a fire out here.
“Wait here,” I told the girls. I stepped one foot, then another toward the building. It didn’t disappear. I sniffed but only got frigid air. No smoke. There was no sign that anyone was in it. No footprints. No lights. Someone could still be inside. As I got closer, I could see boards nailed over the windows. The front door, up a short rise of steps softened by pillows of snow, was also boarded shut.
There was no way to tell if someone was in there without prying off the boards. I looked back at the girls, dark statues half-hidden by the thickly falling snow. If we didn’t go in this house, we’d just have to find another. It would be the same there. The only way to avoid the risk was to sleep outside. And that was risky in itself. I swallowed hard, wondering if Hiroshi would have gone in, or made camp on the tarp, snuggling together and making do on our own without the need for someone else’s house. If we did that, if we could find a flat spot, would we stay warm enough? Would we wake in the morning with five feet of snow on top of us? Or not wake at all, drifting off into a frozen sleep, hidden under the softly undulating surface until the snow melted and someone came across our bodies.

I slid my backpack to sit in the snow on the porch and extracted the hatchet. I pried the blade under a board. The nails squealed. I stopped, holding my breath for almost a minute. No sound from inside. I just had to go for it.