Writing Example – Adding Emotion

Here’s a short excerpt from the version of my novelette, Abuse of Power, I sent to my beta readers.

Auggie crept through the moonlit forest.

Dark hues and roughened buttons replaced the royal blue and shiny gold trim of his uniform.  His blond hair hid under a black cap, and a layer of mud covered the white of his face.  To keep his broadsword from moving, straps fastened the sheath to his thigh.

He chose a specific spot for each step.  Despite his bulk, the resulting crunch of leaves and sticks blended into the sounds of gurgling water and a gentle breeze stirring the canopy of treetops.  Behind him, Benj employed far less care.

Auggie glanced back.  Keeping his voice low, he mustered sharp emphasis despite the low volume.  “Are you familiar with the concept of sneaking?”

With their help, I discovered the following issues:

  1. The paragraph of description breaks the flow of the narrative and ruins the immediacy.
  2. If you read the story as written above, you would have thought the significant situation involved Auggie and Benj chasing horse thieves.  In fact, the current mission is a small plot point that ties in later in the story.
  3. In the first 1,000 words, there was little, if any, emotion.

Here’s how I fixed it:

Auggie crept through the moonlit forest.

He chose a specific spot for each step.  Despite his bulk, the resulting crunch of leaves and sticks blended into sounds of gurgling water and a gentle breeze stirring the canopy of treetops.  The cool night air and the excitement of the chase made him feel alive.

How dare Trina ask me to give this up.  The thought made him want to tear a limb from a nearby tree and crush it into splinters.  If she knew how I felt, maybe she wouldn’t have asked, and we’d still be together.  A quiet voice in the back of his mind reminded him of how many times he had told her just that.  Fighting not to scream in frustration, he picked a patch of ground covered in moss and stepped on it.

Behind him, Benj employed far less care.

Auggie glanced back.  Though he kept his voice low, he mustered sharp emphasis.  “Are you familiar with the concept of sneaking?”

  1. I moved the descriptive paragraph to later in the scene.
  2. The story is a romance.  I moved Auggie’s concerns about his love life front and center.
  3. I added emotion.

Two takeaways:

  1. I’m a big believer in Show, Don’t Tell, but I placed artificial constraints on myself by following it too much without thought.  When dealing with emotion, pure showing can be misinterpreted by the reader.  I’ve learned that it is best to blend showing, telling, and dialogue to properly convey emotion.
  2. Every word in your writing has a purpose.  In your editing process, go back and carefully consider what you’re trying to accomplish and if what you wrote is getting you there.
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